Singleton Shmingleton - Savannah Lions

Savannah Lions | Art by Daniel Gelon

Old Mister Johnson Had Troubles of His Own

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 are taking a look at a card with a lengthy pedigree in other formats. Savannah Lions was the original aggressive one-drop, headlining White Weenie decks before red became the go-to aggro color. In the days when creatures were bad and games started slowly, a 2/1 on turn one demanded an answer, fast.

The Cat itself has dropped off some in the last thirty years, but it started a powerful lineage. Standard aggro decks live or die by the quality of their one-drops, and 2/1s often tie these decks together. Even at a time when White Weenie isn't at the top of any format, these little guys see play in Standard Soldier decks and Pioneer Humans decks. Outside of white, there's a certain monkey that shows up all over Modern.

2/1 for one mana has continued to be an efficient rate in sixty-card Magic through decades of power creep, even if these days you're hoping for some real upside tacked on. Sadly, this is not the kind of efficiency that holds up well in Commander. Aggression in the form of small fast creatures doesn't pan out well against multiple opponents at 40 life each. Aggro decks can succeed, but they need some sort of engine that can snowball to be able to keep up with the rest of the table's development. Savannah Lions sees play in 1,702 decks, but that number is buffered by a lot of Cat decks and the iconic status of the card. Elite Vanguard, another vanilla version, only sees 733 decks, and Expedition Envoy, which should also have the creature type boost as an Ally, only sees 681 decks. If we're going to make an engine out of these cards, we're going to need to do more than attack with them.

He Had a Yellow Cat That Wouldn't Leave His Home

Every time I start thinking about Savannah Lions variants, my mind starts wandering over to the dark side. Specifically, into the color black. Bloodsoaked Champion, Dread Wanderer, Gutterbones? These are cards I would play in Commander! Recursive bodies can fuel all sorts of shenanigans, from Aristocrats strategies to Dredge decks. Now, for this to be a true Shmingleton deck, we'll have to care about more than just their general utility.

Anyways, here's a list of 2/1s for one in black that can recur themselves.

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This isn't quite enough to count on always having one, but once we add in cards like Bloodghast and Dregscape Zombie, we're starting to reach critical mass. The best of these "lions" are quite popular, with Gravecrawler in 39,794 decks and Bloodsoaked Champion at 17,700 decks. The worst by far is Dungeon Crawler, since we're definitely not going to put in the work for any dungeons, and it looks like no one else will either, as it sees play in only 748 decks.

He Gave it to a Man Going Far Far Away

We still need a way to turn these cards into an engine, but luckily there's a perfect payoff that we can run in the command zone. Anhelo, the Painter lets us use our tiny creatures to copy spells. Since these creatures are cheap and we can get them back, that's almost like getting a bunch of free spells! I'm surprised to find so few of these reusable 2/1s on Anhelo's EDHREC page. Bloodsoaked Champion is only in 20% of his decks, and Cult Conscript is only in 11%. These are perfect enablers for him to start copying spells every turn. Now all we have to do is fill the rest of the deck with powerful spells, and we'll be good to go.

Yes, using this commander means we don't get to use the namesake Savannah Lions, but like I said before, I can't help turning to the dark side!

Also, if we're truly investigating the power of consistency, shouldn't we also fill the deck with a lot of copies of the same type of spell? Something that can keep the engine going? Something that always feels good? That's right, this is going to become the first double episode of Shmingleton, because that card is Divination.

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I'm surprised that Winged Words is the most played of these cards, even above Archmage's Charm, but two mana to draw two always feels good, I suppose. Personally I like Of One Mind the most, because two cards for one mana is a serious discount, and the stipulation isn't all that hard in the right deck. If you run any Humans that produce tokens, most of those tokens will be non-Human, and if you care about a creature type like Wizard or Rogue, you'll get a good mix of Humans and non-Humans in the deck just by accident!

This many Divinations can really churn through our deck, finding more 2/1s or more Divinations to keep the engine running. Even better are the four other draw-twos we'll play. Big Score, Unexpected Windfall, Pirate's Pillage, and Seize the Spoils work perfectly with copy effects; we only have to pay the additional cost once, but we get twice the draws and twice the Treasure. All but Seize the Spoils end up being mana-neutral, so we can play whatever we've drawn right away!

Now that we have an engine, we need to figure out what to do with it. This is one of the problems that I fall into most often in Commander: I find a way to generate value, but I don't have a next step. It feels crude to just dig into a combo or into a ridiculous finisher. Cards like Craterhoof Behemoth win the game definitively, but their power often makes it feel like they devalue all of the decisions and actions that led up to the point in the game where they're cast. I find myself wanting the endgame to be just as fun as the journey. This is a deck that draws a lot of cards, so our payoff should be a celebration of drawing cards.

This is a deck that can play a grindy attrition game quite well. We can trade resources before anything spirals out of control and then keep on refilling our hands, but the deck can struggle if another player gets momentum going, and individual spot removal and Counterspells stop being enough to slow things down. Many of our threats grow when we draw cards, so they can get to be pretty large, but this deck isn't built to go over the top the way some decks are.

The engine itself feels so good. Drawing cards is its own reward, and we can feel clever while doing it. It's actually not too hard to bring most of our 2/1s back, and they put in work as pesky attackers and as bodies. Savannah Lions will never take over Commander, but this deck successfully exploits the stats of these kinds of creatures over and over again.

The Decklist

But the Cat Came Back, the Very Next Day

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Commander (1)
Creatures (36)
Instants (8)
Sorceries (13)
Artifacts (6)
Enchantments (2)
Planeswalker (1)
Lands (22)

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Until Next Time

Next time, we'll be focusing on a small creature with a very strong ability: Fencing Ace. Did you know there are ten functional reprints of this card? We'll see if we can break them!

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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