Replacement Commanders - Yennett is Odd, But is She Good?

Well, hello there again, readers. My name is Seth Cross, though I commonly go by “DM” (and yes, it does stand for Dungeon Master). Now, that introduction may seem familiar to those of you who've read my very first articles here on EDHREC; that's the introduction I used for my first article series for this website, a series known as Replacement Commanders! You may wonder why I am reusing openings, and I do have a very good reason for it: we are, at long last, returning to that series, Replacement Commanders! Welcome to the 2018 edition!

Last year’s product was, in my opinion, one of the most fun experiences in a long line of Wizards of the Coast products, which probably speaks to my love of tribal strategies. When WotC announced the themes for this year’s four decks, in my eyes, they had almost instantly topped the 2017 product. Now, I do realize that some folks have concerns with the precon's full decklists - debating whether those themes were delivered upon - but I'm not here to pass those kinds of judgments. I'm here to talk about those decks' Replacement Commanders, and they look sweet!

Some of you may be asking, “What is a Replacement Commander?” Each year, there is a specific commander that is meant to lead the deck as WotC packaged it. Last year, these legendary creatures were Edgar Markov for Vampires, The Ur-Dragon for Dragons, Arahbo, Roar of the World for Cats, and Inalla, Archmage Ritualist for Wizards. These cards tend to get most of the hype and get people the most excited for the product. We sometimes forget that WotC gives us two other new cards capable of sitting in the command zone for each deck, which offer some different strategies to build around. This series shines a spotlight on those commanders, examining the different routes each one can take, often with the help of EDHREC’s Theme pages, whether it be the different tribes, colors, or archetypes. True to my Dungeons & Dragons roots, I rolled a d8 (an eight-sided die, for those non-D&D players) to determine the first Replacement Commander in this edition of the series, and I rolled an 8! That means we are starting off with…

Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign

I am going to be 100% honest with everyone right now. When the themes were announced, the “Esper Top-of-Your-Deck Matters” theme was lost on me. I tend to prefer straightforward, aggressive decks and I had a feeling that most of these cards were going to be tricksy, have-to-be-set-up-to-make-good-plays type of cards. I knew I wanted to own the whole set anyway, but I did not have much faith in the Esper deck. During preview week, certain cards turned my opinion around, and Yennett is one of those cards!

Since these decks are brand new, EDHREC is not really seeing much data on them just yet. To brew decks that cater specifically to the abilities of the Replacement Commanders, we really need to look them over for some different factors and see where they excel. These factors can be their color identity, their abilities, or even just their stats (like their converted mana cost and power and toughness) or sometimes even just their creature types. Three things stick out about Yennett at first glance: her keyword abilities, her creature type and colors, and her unique ability to cast free spells. Since I just said that I like straightforward things, we are going to be very straightforward and build three lists to these three different factors.

Esper Sphinx Voltron?

Speaking of aggressive and straightforward, let us start by talking about beating people in the face with our commander for that sweet blackjack (21 commander damage). I bet you're already raising an eyebrow, wondering why this 5-mana, 3-color 3/5 is worth investing into Voltron strategies. The justification is twofold. For one, Yennett has decent evasion baked in, given that she has both flying and menace. The fact that she has vigilance also means you can attack more freely. The second reason is that her colors can benefit a Voltron strategy; white has artifact tutors for equipment cards, black also has tutors, plus removal for anything that could get in our way, and blue has tons of ways to help our commander sneak in for damage. Ironically, even saying that, there are few Esper Voltron commanders, with the niche mostly dominated by Dakkon Blackblade and more recently, Chromium, the Mutable. I will be looking at both of their pages, as well as the “Equipment” theme page, to construct this list.

Equipment decks have a pretty resilient shell to build from. Cards like Sram, Senior Edificer and Danitha Capashen, Paragon will make our equipment cheaper and, in Sram’s case, help keep our hands full of more gas. Speaking of gas, Hammer of Nazahn seems like an obvious choice, along with support cards like Sigarda's Aid and Puresteel Paladin. Some other tutors for equipment cards are also Open the Armory, Steelshaper's Gift, Stoneforge Mystic and Stonehewer Giant. We can only predict that the table is going to want to remove our toys, so I like the idea of getting some extra damage in with Marionette Master. Since we want to deal 21 damage to our opponents, cards that give huge bonuses like Blackblade Reforged are great targets for all the tutors we're going to include.

Two tutors with some more restrictive circumstances would be Trinket Mage and Trophy Mage. The former grabs cards like Sol Ring, Skullclamp or even just Sensei's Divining Top, which synergizes greatly with Yennett’s bottom ability. The latter mage can grab several of our 3-cost equipment cards, including my favorite three “Swords of X and Y” cards in Commander! With so many artifacts in general, Sai, Master Thopterist can give us some good chump blockers, while Tezzeret, Artifice Master can be great card draw that does well in an artifact deck. To really synergize with Yennett, I purposefully looked for odd-costed Equipment (though there are some even-costed ones in there because they are just too good). Throw in some more control and support cards, and I think we get a list that looks like this:

Yennett’s Riddle of Sphinxes

Magic: the Gathering has all kinds of tribes that people love to build around. In the past year, one of the looser tribes seemingly got their first tribal-based commander when Sphinx tribal saw the printing of Unesh, Criosphinx Sovereign. While the card saw some fanfare, people were not thrilled for it to be a mono-blue card. Then, shortly after Amonkhet, we had Ixalan, and we saw another legendary Sphinx printed in the form of Azor, the Lawbringer. Again, however, and much like the previously printed Azorius-colored legendary Sphinxes, the card had nothing to do with Sphinxes and still omitted the color of black. This omission meant we couldn't run some of the more popular Sphinx cards throughout Magic’s history, such as Sphinx of the Steel Wind, the more infamous Magister Sphinx or even the more recent reprint of Sphinx Summoner.

Now, I am not going to try to fool you and say that Yennett specifically synergizes with Sphinxes. Aside from her creature type, the word does not even appear on her card. However, with Yennett’s second ability, I will state that you can reveal and cheat out some of the coolest oddly-costed Sphinxes, which notoriously are an expensive tribe in terms of CMC. Wrap some of your favorite Sphinx cards in an Esper control shell, and I think the deck will grind out more wins than we might expect. Here is a real riddle for you:

Yennett is a Real Oddball!

At last, we have arrived! Looking at Yennett’s bottom ability, I have a strong feeling that eventually, the Odd Sphinx will eventually be regarded the same way Zur the Enchanter or Narset, Enlightened Master are regarded. Anytime we start talking about cheating spells out for free, people get very nervous and want to keep the value engine from grinding on. Within minutes of Yennett being previewed, cards like Expropriate and Void Winnower were being linked to the Esper commander as just a few of the possible nasty combos.

Naturally, the deck will work well with Sensei’s Divining Top, not to mention tutors like Vampiric Tutor, Enlightened Tutor and Mystical Tutor, since these put the tutored card on the top of the library. There are also several odd-costed removal spells, from Vindicate, Mortify and Hero's Downfall to Anguished Unmaking and classics like Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile. I scoured EDHREC’s pages on Esper, Orzhov, Dimir, and Azorius decks and even for the best odd-costed cards, and generated one of the oddest (get it?) decklists I think I have ever put in an article! Check it out:

Wow, it feels great to be writing about another Commander product this year. I'm so happy to get back to my EDHRE roots, and so psyched for this series’ version 2.0! But what do you think about it so far? Which direction would you take this Replacement Commander? Which Replacement do you want to see next? Comment down below, join my public Discord server, or follow me on Twitter to make your voice heard! 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