Singleton Shmingleton - Build a Goad Deck with Ophidian

Ophidian | Art by Cliff Nielsen

Strike Like a Snake

Hello, and welcome back to Singleton Shmingleton, where I bend the singleton rules of Commander by building decks with as many functional reprints of a certain card as possible. This week we're going to be trying to clear a path to crack in with creatures that draw cards, because this week's card is Ophidian. Though this Snake has undoubtedly been left behind by power creep in the years since Weatherlight, it is also one of the designs that has inspired the most cards since. From control deck finisher Shadowmage Infiltrator to Werewolf lord Tovolar, Dire Overlord anything that draws a card when it connects with an opponent owes its existence to this little Snake.

Ophidian variants have often been powerful commons in Limited formats, and every once in a while one breaks into the Constructed scene. In more recent years, we have seen several variants that offer additional upside as a way to keep pace with modern Limited, and the base rate has risen as well, from the old classic of 1/3 in Scroll Thief to a 3/2 in Soulknife Spy. There are so many versions of this effect, branching off into the territory of everything from Dinosaurs to Assassins, that I only included versions that are castable for three mana or less in my list. Sorry, Garza Zol, Plague Queen! Even with this restriction, I found thirty-two cards:

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The most played of these cards is Cold-Eyed Selkie, with 39,914 decks. Green and blue are very good at increasing creatures' powers, and this card can go nuts once it has a few +1/+1 counters on it. The next most played card is Glissa Sunslayer, in 31,952 decks. The flexibility on this card, combined with its raw power and supremacy in combat, make it the most efficient Ophidian of all time. Past that, we have some Ninjas and a Werewolf that are buoyed by their typal strategies. The least played Ophidian, besides the brand-new Nimble Brigand, is the original Snake itself, in only 384 decks. How time passes.

Coming Through!

The first thing we need to do in a deck full of Ophidians is to make sure our creatures can deal combat damage to a player. If we were able to play any number of Scroll Thief and Gateway Sneak, Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive might be an easy way to get our creatures through, but a surprising number of our Ophidians have neither power nor toughness one. But what if our opponents couldn't block because they had to attack instead? I have always wanted to build a Goad deck, and this seems like the perfect opportunity. If we can force our opponents to attack each other, they'll have to leave their defenses down, and we can sneak in some creatures to fill our hand up.

The first place I looked to start building this deck was the Forced Combat theme page on EDHREC. From there, I knew we were playing blue for Ophidians, and red is the color that manipulates combat the best, so I looked at the blue and red page. Oh my goodness are there a lot of spicy cards that mess with opponents' attacks! Since we started getting more products aimed at multiplayer games, we've seen a lot more designs that creatively point your opponents' creatures at each other. Goad is the most prominent example of this. First introduced in Conspiracy: Take the Crown and then made into an almost evergreen multiplayer mechanic, Goad makes creatures attack, and makes them attack anyone but you. Sometimes it plays out almost like removal, forcing utility creatures like Sythis, Harvest's Hand to throw themselves into blockers. But this mechanic also just speeds up the game by stopping all political board stalls and games of chicken. Attacking in multiplayer is tough because you're opening yourself up to aggression from three opponents on the backswing, but Goad can get a game into a more aggressive rhythm. If you want to play a few games in a night, Goad can keep the pace up.

Outside of Goad, blue and red also have some other powerful effects that force opponents to attack. Goblin Spymaster and Goblin Diplomats both do so at very cheap costs, and Rowan Kenrith can force a combat a bit up the curve. Angler Turtle makes everything attack as a static ability, and provides a great blocking body. But the crown jewel of this kind of effect is Bident of Thassa. It seems to have anticipated the premise of our deck, and does it all, forcing our opponents to tussle and then doubling down on our ophidian triggers.

Looking for a commander for this deck, I stumbled across Firkraag, Cunning Instigator. It's the right colors, it draws cards off of Goaded creatures, and it even has some surprising Dragon synergies. There are a few dragons that fit great within the themes of this deck. Vengeful Ancestor gives both an enabler and a payoff for Goading, and Warmonger Hellkite forces everything to attack all the time. Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius is a souped-up Ophidian himself, and has the added bonus of pinging to remove small creatures or draw large amounts of cards.

How To Stay Alive

The game this deck is going to create is a violent one, where creatures turn sideways and life totals drop. Since we know this, we can prepare for that game. Goad protects us somewhat already, since Goaded creatures cannot attack us, but many of our effects aren't so protective. Propaganda is a classic deterrent, often turning opponents towards other players for convenience alone. Dissipation Field threatens to rip our opponent's board to shreds if they hit us. And cards like Curse of Opulence give incentives to attack other players while giving us value as well.

Beyond these few cards, one of the draws of this kind of deck is the ability to flex our political skills. Most of our Goad effects are targeted, so we can get a lot of leverage by promising not to force a small creature to attack in exchange for something, or by dealing with other opponents' threats. The trick of playing the deck is to make everyone forget that this whole situation was most likely all our fault, and that the forced combat is always in our favor. We love our opponents to have creatures to bash into each other, and in that vein, some of blue's removal becomes particularly good for us. Pongify and Rapid Hybridization both turn problem creatures into fairly burly 3/3s for us to point at other players, and Reality Shift does the same at a worse rate here.

The Decklist

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This deck is a blast. The games are fast-paced, and the mindset is different from the self-preserving conservative mindset that sometimes keeps games from ever starting. Ophidian and friends pull their weight, drawing into more of themselves and more ways to keep our opponents off balance. Our strategy does get hosed by anything with Vigilance, which is not something I thought I would ever say about a strategy, but as long as we can work our way around that we should be able to keep the resources rolling. Most of our creatures aren't very big, but our opponents will all be doing a lot of the work of killing each other, so we just have to deal the last blows. And Firkraag, Cunning Instigator is itself a huge threat, often growing into the double-digits. We draw enough cards to keep the engine rolling. And hey, in a fast-paced game sometimes we get run over by armies we pointed at us. But we always have time to redeem ourselves in the next game.

Until Next Time

This card has been a Limited role-player since Portal, and now is its time to shine in Commander. Making a single opponent discard two cards for three mana has a lot of problems in this format, but they aren't insurmountable. How can we turn this into a favorable exchange, maybe even a broken one? Find out next time on Singleton Shmingleton!

Read More:

Tetsuko Umezawa: A Mono-Blue Guide to Compleation

Singleton Shmingleton - Mono-Red Goblins with Goblin Tunneler

Jesse Barker Plotkin started playing Magic with Innistrad. He was disqualified from his first Commander game after he played his second copy of Goblins of the Flarg, and it's all been uphill from there. Outside of Magic, he enjoys writing and running.

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