Replacement Commanders - When in Doubt, Jund 'em Out (with Reanimated Tokens!)
Wake Up, Corpses!
Hello again, dedicated readers! My name is Seth Cross and this is Replacement Commanders, an annual series dedicated to shining the spotlight on the alternative legendary creatures from Wizards of the Coast's annual Commander precon products. Each year, we get amazing commanders like Edgar Markov, Meren of Clan Nel Toth, and Atraxa, Praetors' Voice, but tend to forget about or simply not pay as much attention to the other legendary creatures that come in the decks.
For this year and series, we have crossed the halfway point: for each precon, we've already covered one of the two alternate legendary creatures from the deck. Thus, I needed help (as I normally do) deciding which one to write about next. I ran a poll in three different locations: on my Twitter account, in the Praetor Magic Discord server, and even on Jeremy Noell's discord server to see what people wanted to see the most. The choices were Varina, Lich Queen, Kestia, the Cultivator, Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer and the Replacement Commander that won by a single vote and is now the star of our article today…
Gyrus, Waker of Corpses!
Looking at Gyrus, there are several interesting factors to consider. Gyrus is a 0/0 and the power and toughness of the card is determined by how much mana we dump into it, in the form of +1/+1 counters. More importantly, we have pseudo-reanimation with the corpse-waker's ability, which is done in the more recent way that Wizards has been printing such effects. We saw a similar ability with Isareth the Awakener, who must pay to exile the creature from the graveyard and create a token. Similarly, Gyrus is “restricted” by needing to target creatures with smaller power than itself. I say “restricted” because we can build Gyrus up and make it possible to “reanimate” anything we put in the graveyard. Despite the different kind of reanimation, I think we can look past that and focus solely on what Gyrus can do. In true Replacement Commanders fashion, let's get to creating a precon-like deck that is centered around the strategies of this commander.
As a quick note, a reader on Twitter recently asked me “What do you mean by making 'precon-like' decklists?” The short summary is that I try to avoid infinite combos (unless, like last week, I feel the commander simply screams “go off and win!” with their abilities). I also try to avoid creating overly expensive decklists, and focus on inclusions that can illustrate a few different strategies all wrapped together. Finally, I tend to include most of the normal staples that appear in every deck from Wizards' version of the product, just to keep that 'precon' feel.
Where's My REAL Reanimation?!
I'm a black or Golgari player most of the time, so I have not been thrilled to see multiple instances where “reanimation” abilities require you to exile the creature from the graveyard to get a token copy. There are pros to these abilities, in the sense that we can include token doublers to get more of the creatures, but overall, I love decks that can loop-recur creatures (I love you, Gray Merchant of Asphodel!) and exiling is therefore the bane of my existence. That means that making a list about Gyrus is bittersweet for me. Sure, it feels great to put some of my favorite cards into a deck, like Entomb and Buried Alive, but it stinks to see my favorite creatures destined for the exile zone.
I will give Wizards some credit though; as a Vorthos (story-focused) player, the insert for the Jund precon states that Gyrus “dredges dead things from the murky water and animates them as shadows of the former selves.” The creatures being “shadows” translating into tokens does seem to fit very well, but from a mechanical standpoint, I still miss my long turns of looped recursion to win the game. With that in mind, let us look at how I think Gyrus can dominate the board.
The Elephant in the Room
Even though I may not be thrilled with exiling the creature cards from the graveyard to get the token copies, there is a much more glaring downside to Gyrus. The token copy that it makes only sticks around until the end of combat, and is then exiled. Luckily, Gyrus is not the first instance of this exile-after-combat clause, so we know that there's a simple answer to fix the problem in the form of Sundial of the Infinite. During the End of Combat step, the trigger to exile all the tokens will go on the stack. Responding to that trigger by activating Sundial will force the triggers to be exiled, leaving the tokens behind!
Normally, with a card this important to the deck, you would think that we want to protect it, tutor it out, and recur it every time it is moved to the graveyard. However, for this deck and with this commander, there are only so many key components that are artifacts, so investing in things like Darksteel Forge or Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer seems to be a stretch. Trading Post, however, seems like a great addition for recursion, since it also helps us put creatures into the graveyard for Gyrus to turn into tokens. Buried Ruin as a key utility land also adds another layer to our redundancy plans. As for tutors, we will be running a few tutors in the deck naturally, so I do not think we need to worry about “artifact specific” tutors.
Jund ETB Weenies?
Gyrus' ability is written in a very specific way. The amount of mana we pay to cast it determines the amount of counters it enters the battlefield with. That works well in Commander, because the more our opponents remove Gyrus, the more Commander Tax we must pay, and that just translates into more power, rather like the way Prossh, Skyraider of Kher works to make more tokens the more Commander Tax you pay. With that being said, I like the idea of relying on Gyrus to often be a 3/3, since that is the smallest it will ever be if we just pay the Jund cost and put 0 mana into the X cost.
Gyrus's triggered ability states that the creature to be shad-imated (get it? Reanimated as a shadow?) must have lesser power. Because of that, I wanted to fill the decklist with creatures that have one or two power with strong or synergistic abilities (mostly ones that trigger from entering the battlefield, also known as ETB effects) to benefit from. Staples like Acidic Slime, Sakura-Tribe Elder, and even Disciple of Bolas and Solemn Simulacrum were the first batch to make the list. Some more interesting choices are Stitcher's Supplier, Shrieking Mogg, and Gonti, Lord of Luxury. Some game-enders like Master of Cruelties seem appropriate as well. Naturally, I have already expressed my love for my good friend Gray Merchant of Asphodel.
I briefly considered the idea of Jund Hydra Tribal and I did investigate the possibilities. However, I quickly realized that most of the Hydras (which, by the way, numbered only about 37 total, and have very inconsistent power levels) are 0/0 creatures that enter with counters equal to how much mana we would pay into them. This is strictly a non-bo with Gyrus, since we are not paying anything with his ability, so most of the Hydras would just die as 0/0s. However, I do like the idea of having Kalonian Hydra in the deck. While we will not get the attack trigger when we shad-imate it because the token enters the battlefield already tapped and attacking, skipping the Declare Attackers Step, the chance to double Gyrus’s counters on subsequent turns is simply too tempting to pass up. Some of the other Hydra cards I added into the list to at least represent the possibility of a “tribal" deck are Managorger Hydra and Heroes' Bane.
NOTE: If you DO want to build Gyrus as tribal Hydras, I recommend using Gyrus's ability to recur supportive cards like Wood Elves or other land fetchers, then use recursion like Golgari Findbroker to bring your Hydras back to your hand so that you can pay mana back into them. Selvala, Heart of the Wilds is another great include for that version of the deck as well.
Accelerate the ETB Value
With any luck, we'll play most of our creatures once to get their ETB benefit, watch them go to the graveyard, and then shad-imate them to get another ETB benefit from the token. As a Golgari player, I will be the first person to admit; reanimation strategies are greedy. We do not just want one ETB effect, we want five. No, make that ten! Maybe we'll stop at twenty! But not if we do not have to! The point I am trying to get across is that while getting a second trigger is great, we want more. Panharmonicon is one way to get twice as many triggers, but Gyrus's ability to make tokens presents an interesting opportunity. Cards like Doubling Season and Parallel Lives and even the reckless Primal Vigor will give us the chance to make more and more tokens each time we bring back something's shadow, and each one will bring their own instance of the ETB effect. This, combined with the Sundial to keep our shadowy minions on the field, means that we can potentially flood the board with all kinds of different tokens.
In the instance of things like Gonti, Lord of Luxury, I do want to point out that we still get the ETB triggers even if we have to sacrifice the extra copies due to the legend rule. It is for this purpose that I think running Sidisi, Undead Vizier still works well, since we can tutor up multiple cards at once. Remember, though, that each trigger requires a new body to sacrifice, and because of the legend rule's state-based effect, we will not be able to use the duplicate tokens as fodder for each Exploit trigger.
Rounding Out the Deck
In conjunction with providing us multiple tokens, both Doubling Season and Primal Vigor give us additional counters. This is great for Gyrus to become even bigger, so running cards like Winding Constrictor and Corpsejack Menace add more layers to make Gyrus a huge threat. This gives us a chance to end the game out of nowhere with Chandra's Ignition and means we may want to consider some evasion for our commander in the form of Nylea, God of the Hunt and Brawn. Anger is a similar card to Brawn, another great card to get into the graveyard and offering some faster plays with Gyrus. The user Pyreheart from the Praetor Magic Discord server suggested that maybe Gyrus could benefit from some rings, and I like the idea of both trample redundancy in Ring of Kalonia and the removal protection from Ring of Xathrid. Both also give Gyrus more counters over time! That part not only lets us reanimate bigger stuff, but also gives us the option to potentially make Gyrus our wincon by racking up commander damage! Yay for diversity in ways we can win the game!
Tossing in some more staples and answers, I think the deck would look like this;
Gyrus and the Shad-imates!
I cannot lie to you, fine reader, so I cannot tell you that I enjoy seeing Gyrus's exile-based recursion on a commander. I still truly love the way we have always done it, so I can loop the same creatures over and over. Even so, I do appreciate when an interesting card is crafted and comes together to create a unique deck. I enjoy the fact that there are some overlapping synergies in Hydras and tokens, given that there are some Hydras that make tokens and some token doublers that work well with +1/+1 counters, which affect our commander. And since Gyrus forces us to always pick something new, that means we have to explore and improve as players, instead of relying on old habits. Take it a step forward and realize how well these strategies are already represented in Gyrus's color, and it truly feels like a well-crafted card.
For now, though, we are on the latter half of this series! I am excited to complete another year’s worth of Replacement Commanders and get back to some more Uncommonders. If you like what I write about and want to be a part of the process, remember to follow me on Twitter and join the Praetor Magic Discord server! And of course, I greatly appreciate anyone who becomes one of our Praetor Magic Twitch subscribers and links their Twitch and Discord accounts to get to jump into our sub-only Phyrexian Arena channel on Discord to chat and brew decks with the team! Thanks for reading!