Solve the Equation – How to Tell if a Strategy Has Enough Support by Using Deck Templates

(Hazezon, Shaper of Sand | Art by Bryan Sola)

These Deserts are Out-Sand-Ing

Feel like your deck just is not coming together? Welcome to Solve the Equation, where we take a look at the numbers and see what's making your deck and in-game decision-making fall flat.

Each new set brings us a new suite of commanders that fit the unique and niche strategies of its player base. Between Dominaria United itself and the subsequent Commander decks, many new tribes and strategies received some justly deserved love. Zeriam, Golden Wind finally gives Griffins a playable general (Sorry, Zuberi, Golden Feather), while Ohabi Caleria not only gets an upgrade to their Legends printing, but also gives you a use for all the draft-chaff Archers you tucked away in a box.

However, as exciting as each of these new cards are, each of them raises an important question: does this tribe/strategy have enough cards to build an entire Commander deck around? Often a new commander excites me, but when I try to build the deck, it falls flat. The strategy does not have enough support to consistently “do the thing”, and I often fall back on filling the deck with good-stuff cards.

Unfortunately for my wallet, my instinct is to buy the cool new commanders and figure out if they work later, but to potentially save money in the future, I wanted to find a better way to determine if an archetype has support beforehand. Let’s do it with my favorite Legends glow-up of all!

We Have Hazezon at Home

Hazezon Tamar was one of the more exciting original legends. Not only was he not vanilla, but his ability still holds up relatively well today. Sure, Avenger of Zendikar has a similar effect without the $200+ price tag, but Hazezon Tamar and his Sand Warrior tokens are admittedly much cooler.

His latest iteration is cheaper both monetarily and in terms of mana value. Hazezon, Shaper of Sand brings back the Naya Sand Warrior tokens, but with a twist. Deserts have seen play in a variety of formats, including Commander, but never as a dedicated archetype. The Desert theme here is both a flavorful and creative win. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a deeper look at the card.

First, let’s talk Desertwalk. Unfortunately, in 99% of games this will just be complete flavor text. The majority of Deserts see play in less than 2% of eligible decks. The one notable exception is Scavenger Grounds appearing in over 72,000 decks and 5% of all decks on the site. Scavenger Grounds’s built-in ability to sacrifice itself all but guarantees we will rarely if ever be able to swing in unblocked, so we can ignore this bit of text and have a laugh on the rare occasion it is relevant.

Next up is “You may play Desert lands from your graveyard”. This effect only applies to Deserts, but is still probably the closest we have to a Crucible of Worlds or Ramunap Excavator effect in our command zone. This is sneaky strong, especially with Deserts such as Ramunap Ruins sacrificing to put themselves in the graveyard, and Desert of the True just Cycling straight into our graveyard.

We can also capitalize off sacrificing lands with the knowledge we can play them out of the 'yard. Sylvan Safekeeper, Constant Mists, and in particular Nahiri's Lithoforming get a big boost. Nahiri's Lithoforming has always been on my list of cards I want to fit in a deck, and this is its home. Hazezon’s ability all but mitigates the downside and lets us hit a bunch of Landfall and “Desertfall” triggers. Speaking of “Desertfall”

I buried the lede, as the final ability is the most exciting. “Whenever a Desert enters the battlefield under your control, create two 1/1 red, green, and white Sand Warrior creature tokens.” This "tokens per Landfall" rate is well above what we usually expect from a three-mana creature. These specific Warrior tokens give us even more room to build a deck off of and this ability encourages us to lean into multiple land drops and Landfall in general.

The Deckbuilding Template

Our friends over at the Command Zone recently updated their deckbuilding template. I recommend this template for beginners, and it can still be helpful to more enfranchised players, but often these players are better off reevaluating these categories to better fit their deck and playstyle. 

Take a look at the Command Zone’s template here!

Where I do think this template is helpful to everyone (including enfranchised players) is when considering if there are enough synergy pieces within a strategy to build a fully-fledged deck. Let’s apply this template to Hazezon, Shaper of Sand to see if the Desert strategy stacks up before we build the deck and buy the cards.

The Essentials

These tend to be the boring cards that we fit into our deck so that it functions. This is where you will add many of the staples. This portion of the deckbuilding template is crucial, but does not give us a great idea of if a strategy will work or not. These card slots will have some more synergistic options we can include. Edge of Autumn, for example, is a great ramp spell that synergizes with our commander’s ability to play Deserts from our graveyard in the late game to retrigger his ability. However, for the most part this portion does not answer our central question of if this archetype is supported. I am including it here, but for the sake of our exercise we can ignore this portion with one notable exception:

Ramp: 10-12

Card Draw: 10

Removal: 10-12 

Board Wipes: 3-4

Lands: 35-38

The one exception in this category is the land section. This is deck-/archetype-specific, since Deserts are a subtype of lands. Within Naya colors, there are 16 Deserts, and we want to run all of them to maximize our commander’s ability.

Only six of these Deserts produce colored mana on their own, and none produce more than one color without additional requirements. Working with a 38-land deck (using higher end of range for a lands deck), this only leaves 22 non-Desert land slots putting a strain on our mana base. This means we will want a solid mana-base of fetch lands and shock lands to make sure we hit our colors on time to cast our commander.

16 Deserts is not a substantial amount of support. We have a 71% chance of having at least one Desert in our opening hand, but our odds of having two or more drops all the way down to 32%. Only every 6.2 cards in our deck will be a Desert, which means that without any card draw, we will only see a new Desert every six turns. That is not viable on its own if our win condition is to revolve around Deserts and Hazezon’s ability. We need to find ways in the rest of our deck to increase the speed at which we are playing Deserts.

The Rest of Our Deck

This is the meat of your deck. This is where your deck becomes unique and takes shape around your strategy. The Command Zone grouped these cards into three categories:

Standalone - Cards that are effective on their own (25 suggested)

  • What strategies work well with our main theme of Deserts? Here we can build sub-themes into our strategy.

A big chunk of the remaining cards of our deck do not necessarily need to relate directly to Deserts, but they still need to complement our Commander’s strategy while working well independently, even if we have no Deserts in hand. This is a great place to introduce a sub-theme.

Most niche archetypes/tribes will require a sub-theme. A sub-theme should never clash with the primary strategy, but rather complement it. For example, a niche tribal deck such as Skeletons may have a Discard subtheme that complements the primary strategy as so many Skeletons have built-in discard effects. 

The natural sub-themes for a Hazezon, Shaper of Sand deck are Landfall or Tokens. Luckily, Landfall and Tokens themes often work hand-in-hand with the best Landall triggers creating creatures. Naya colors have some of the strongest Landfall cards with Avenger of Zendikar, Scute Swarm, and Felidar Retreat among the highlights. 

We also want to trigger our Landfall and commander’s ability multiple times per turn for maximum effect. Dryad of the Ilysian Grove, Oracle of Mul Daya and Azusa, Lost but Seeking give us additional land drops and are useful for fixing and card advantage on their own.

You should have no problem filling out these 25-ish spots with Landfall cards, and if you need any help check out the archetype on EDHREC.

Enhancers - Amplify (or are amplified by) other cards (10-12 Suggested)

  • How can we enhance our commander’s ability? Here we can answer if there are cards to take advantage of our commander’s ability and if the payoff is worth it.

Hazezon creates a unique token that we can take advantage of in ways that other tokens would not usually benefit from. These tokens are all three Naya colors, meaning they will all get +3/+3 from Knight of New Alara. Not only are they three colors, but they are also Warriors. Both Lovisa Coldeyes and Kargan Warleader will make those Warriors much scarier.

Speaking of scarier, we don’t even have to limit ourselves to these tokens. Jinnie Fay, Jetmir's Second can turn them into 3/1 or 2/2 tokens instead. For even more tokens, we can throw in Anointed Procession or Parallel Lives. Need to end the game? Beastmaster Ascension, Jetmir, Nexus of Revels, or Purphoros, God of the Forge can all end the game in a hurry.

Desert support itself? This is one area of enhancers that could use more support. There are only 13 nonland cards in Naya colors that deal with Deserts and most are underwhelming. The two exceptions are Hour of Promise and Shefet Monitor. These cards pull Deserts directly from our deck into play to trigger our commander, and they even give us access to more cards as the former can grab any lands and the latter cycles to draw a card.

There are plenty of ways to leverage our commander’s ability, now we have to ensure there are enough ways to do it.

Enablers - Cover a weakness or fill in a strategy gap (7-8 Suggested)

  • How can we ensure we support our Desert strategy? Here we can see if there are enough cards to enable our plan.

This is the most important section to determine if our strategy warrants an entire deck. If we can not consistently put Deserts in play then we might as well build another Naya Landfall deck. Luckily, green gives us plenty of ways to tutor for lands. Crop Rotation and Scapeshift can put one or many Deserts directly from our library into play. Perhaps more importantly, they also put Deserts into our graveyard that we can play with our commander.

Satyr Wayfinder is often best utilized to find a non-Desert land early game while sticking a Desert in our graveyard for later. Ruin Ghost lets us blink our Deserts, so even if we do not draw any we can continue to trigger the ability.

Elvish Reclaimer and Knight of the Reliquary also allow us to put lands in our graveyard and pull them out of our graveyard. Unlike the aforementioned spells, these allow us to consistently trigger the ability turn after turn.

It turns out there are no shortage of ways to consistently bring Deserts in and out of play. In particular, the ability to include so many cards that pull Deserts directly from our library mitigates the downside of only having 16 Deserts that we can legally run.

In Conclusion

I was able to complete this exercise before I even put this deck together. This allowed me to think critically about the support behind a strategy to determine if it was worth building a deck before committing any money. Luckily, in this case there definitely was enough support, but I do not think this would be the takeaway in every case.

Sure, you can make a viable deck around basically any strategy with enough staples, but many decks do not come together if you want to commit to the theme. The key factors that allowed Hazezon, Shaper of Sand to come together was the combination of many enablers that directly support the strategy, and a sub-theme that compliments our main-theme.

This is a great exercise to perform when evaluating a new strategy. You don't need to fill out a full deck, but rather focus on the sub-theme and enablers to decide if there is enough to make a deck viable. If you are struggling to find enough enablers that directly impact your strategy or you can’t find a sub-theme within your main-theme, then it is likely that you will not be able to make a deck that can consistently “do the thing”. 

Check out my list and let me know what you would include as well. Let me know in the comments the last deck you tried to build, but didn't have the support to come together.

We have Hazezon at Home

View on Archidekt

Commander (9)
Creatures (159)
Instants (59)
Sorceries (49)
Enchantments (24)
Artifacts (24)
Planeswalkers (9)
Lands (194)

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Ben is a Michigan native who fell in love with Magic just a few years ago in 2019. He loves making big splashy plays in Commander as well as crunching the number to optimize his decks. Outside of Magic, he works in marketing and loves a great cup of coffee to start each morning… maybe with a splash of hot chocolate for his sweet tooth.

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