Replacement Commanders - Mr. Steal Yo Shape!

(Volrath, the Shapestealer | Art by Heonhwa Choe)

Volrath Got an Upgrade!

Hello again, all my lovely Commander faithful friends! Welcome to what may possibly become my most favorite installment of Replacement Commanders, the series designed to look at the legendary creatures that don’t wind up on the front of the annual Commander precon product, where we make them shine with a deck totally revolved around them and their unique abilities! You may be asking yourself, “I wonder why Seth is so excited for this article? He’s written dozens of them already.” There are two reasons! First, this marks something of a milestone when it comes to my time here at EDHREC: this is my 50th article! I’ve had a couple of extras here and there for set reviews, but when it comes to my Replacement Commanders and Uncommonders series, this is the big five-oh! It has been an awesome ride so far, and I look forward to continuing to bring you readers more and more crazy ideas in the future! Thank you so much for all the comments, votes in polls, and just overall interaction over the past couple of years!

Now, the second reason I’m excited about today’s article is because I have been waiting to spotlight today’s replacement for pretty much this entire series. I’ve enjoyed writing most if not all of these builds and articles throughout this year’s installment, but the one legendary creature that I was the most excited for was absolutely…

Volrath, the Shapestealer

In the past two years or so, there have been some other “counters matter” style cards in different sets, and I for one have loved the concept. I ran Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons as a commander for a while and have been pining for a Jund commander that cares about counters to pair her up with The Scorpion God. Then when Generous Patron came out in Battlebond, my Hapatra deck got an awesome upgrade. Obviously, we can't run the counters-matter-God in our Sultai deck, but I’m still excited to pair Hapatra-like effects with blue’s affinity for the Proliferate mechanic.

Looking at the page for Volrath, the Shapestealer, there are multiple archetypes being dipped into: positive counters, negative counters, Infect, Shapeshifters, clones, and pod decks all exist, but most precons don’t dilute across that many strategies. Ultimately, I decided to combine the positive and negative counters as just “counters matter”, mixed it with a few Clones for those that enter the battlefield with counters on them, and splashed in just a touch of Infect.

I know most people balk at seeing Infect in a precon-like list, but I feel I can justify it pretty well with just two reasons. First, there was always going to be some Proliferate in the decklist because it works so well with positive and negative counters. The two main Infect creatures I wanted in the list were included because they also help with Proliferate, so I felt splashing a few more cards for Infect wouldn’t be unwarranted. My second reason is even more simple: my name is Seth Edgar Cross and I have a brand, and it loves Infect. Sue me.

Counters that Matter but that Don’t Infuriate Your Opponents!

I’m going to be using the term “counters matter” constantly in this article, but I don’t mean cards like Counterspell. I’m referring to +1/+1 (positive) and -1/-1 (negative) counters, and saying that they matter means that we care more about just putting them creatures for their buff and debuff purposes. The cards shown above are perfect examples: Rishkar, Peema Renegade and Jiang Yanggu, Wildcrafter turn every creature with a counter (positive, negative, or otherwise for Rishkar) into mana dorks. Herald of Secret Streams gives our counter-carrying creatures evasion, while Necroskitter gives us the opportunity to steal our opponents’ creatures with negative counters.

As for enablers, there were a few I favored over some of the others from the EDHREC page. Renata, Called to the Hunt is like a non-tribal version of Metallic Mimic, while Tetzimoc, Primal Death can help us copy our opponents’ creatures for cheap and double up as removal when we cast the big black Elder Dinosaur. Loyal Guardian works well once Volrath is on the battlefield. Two interesting pieces for this purpose that I think some may overlook, since they can appear to have a downside, are Black Sun’s Zenith and Carnifex Demon. Some people may shy away from these due to the potential to kill our own creatures, but the advantage of giving us the option to turn Volrath into anything on the battlefield seems so powerful that I think even losing some lower toughness creatures is worth the risk.

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Bigger!

When it comes to Clones, Volrath has the potential to double up on the value of our opponents’ decks by making copies of their creatures and then having Volrath turn into another copy of those creatures. When it comes to attack triggers, activated abilities, or static effects, these incremental bits of value can add up to overwhelming momentum and, eventually, a victory. Of course, to have Volrath take the form of our copies, they need to have counters on them. We touched on effects like Renata, Called to the Hunt above, but another effect like that is Master Biomancer, which gives all of our creatures two counters naturally. Of course, we’re playing with green so there’s no reason not to be running The Great Henge which will give our clones that precious counter, as well as the other five million things that Henge provides!

After that, we just need a few more clone effects, so Clever Impersonator gives us the option to copy any nonland permanent on the battlefield, while Progenitor Mimic can slowly produce masses of value creatures. Stunt Double and Vesuvan Shapeshifter are different forms of having a Clone at instant speed. Our “when creatures enter the battlefield, give them counters” cards all work for tokens except for The Great Henge, so even token copies will work, like those created by Saheeli’s Artistry, Rite of Replication, Repudiate // Replicate or even instant-speed possibilities like Cackling Counterpart.

The Magic Number is 10!

I alluded to a couple of cards that would justify including Infect in a precon-style deck because they also encouraged Proliferating counters of all kinds. Those two cards are pictured above: Thrummingbird and Viral Drake. I also included Blighted Agent because if we can put a counter of any kind on it, Volrath can become a 7/5 body unblockable body with Infect, and in a deck that thrives on putting counters on creatures, I imagine we can one-shot opponents without much difficulty. Keeping the Infect to only a splash, I also included Ichor Rats because we're utilizing some cloning abilities, and hitting the Rats with Rite of Replication and giving the entire field six poison counters is a dream that just makes me smile!

We can’t forget those ever-important support cards like card advantage, ramp, removal, and Wraths (in addition to some of the ones we have already mentioned) but it all ties into a list that looks something like this:

Budget Volrath Steals Budget Shapes

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Commander (1)
Creature (25)
Instant (7)
Sorcery (9)
Artifact (12)
Enchantment (7)
Planeswalker (1)
Land (38)

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Some Like it Hot (or Tuned!)

Normally when I do these articles, the first list is designed to be like a precon we would see in the annual Commander product. I purposefully check the cost of cards and the overall cost of the deck to be what I believe is within the range of “budget”. The second list is normally dedicated to something a bit crazy that I think up and I stray away (sometimes far away) from the idea of budget, specifically with mana bases.

In this case, I was so excited to get to talk about Volrath as a commander and what he’s capable of, I decided that this second list is not going to be a crazy list, but rather a list similar to the one above with the budget restrictions removed. While the first list capped out at spending the $11 for Necroskitter and I justified Arcane Signet because I imagine it will be seeing reprints in future Brawl products, this list got to include all kinds of goodies, like fetch and ABUR dual lands, iconic (and polarizing) cards like Cyclonic Rift, and some better support cards like Damnation and Sylvan Library. With the list following the same thought process as the first one, I feel that I don’t need to explain as many of the card choices. If anything does look out of place, feel free to ask in the comments below, but this is the list I concocted when nothing was holding me back:

Volrath Needs Dat Money

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Commander (1)
Creature (16)
Sorcery (12)
Artifact (16)
Enchantment (7)
Instant (10)
Land (38)

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It’s the Final Countdown! (or Article… Close Enough?)

It’s almost sad, ending this article. This was the second-to-last, meaning that the next time we see one another, faithful reader, it will be our last time talking about the Replacement Commanders of 2019! Our final replacement is Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero, and I’m excited to see what craziness we can put together with him and then get back to Uncommonders to try to catch up with all the uncommon legendary creatures we’ve seen recently. But this series always holds a special place in my heart, being the first thing I started writing here at EDHREC! Still, I appreciate all of you and all the comments these articles have gotten. Those really make my day and mean the world to me!

As always, though, if you want to keep talking Commander or Magic: the Gathering in general with me, feel free to follow me on Twitter! I also run a team of content creators named Praetor Magic and we stream a few times a month on Twitch and put videos up on our YouTube channel. We also host a public (free to join) Discord server, so if that’s your thing, I’ll see you there! I can’t say this next part enough, but…

Thanks for reading!

DM Cross started playing Magic: the Gathering when he was 8 years old. Currently 29 years old, he's become an avid lover of the EDH/Commander format and is constantly keeping an eye on everything coming out to see how to tune and tweak his favorite decks. DM can be found on Twitter @DM_Cross

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