Staple Remover – Kess, Dissident Mage

(Kess, Dissident Mage | Art by Izzy Medrano)

The Calm Before The Storm

The year was 2019. Jaelyn, na├»ve to the dangers which awaited her, spent days – weeks, even – climbing the ladder of Standard using Izzet Phoenix on Magic: the Gathering Arena. But as she continued on, she found time was not on her side: more and more Teferi, Time Ravelers stood in her path to victory, preventing any sort of advantage from her instants. Eventually, she was being drowned in the mana advantage of Temur Floods, as Core Set 2020 released.

Ever since then, she’s been hunting, searching for a place where she can get that same feeling of vigor from slinging Lightning Strikes at puny little creatures… and she may have just found that in another format entirely: Commander. As Izzet Blitz blasts its way into Modern after the banning of Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, spellslingers everywhere find themselves empowered to take up arms and chase the storm.


Spell Mastery

This week’s Staple Remover is a little different: instead of looking at an individual staple that’s included in the 99 of Commander decks, we’ll be looking at one of the format’s most popular generals and finding alternative commanders which fill a similar niche or archetype while offering something more, such as a different color suite, additional synergies, wincons, or an overall more fun deck tailored to you!

Today, we’ll be looking at different Spellslinger commanders, the most popular of which is Kess, Dissident Mage, EDHREC’s 11th-most-popular commander. Kess’ ability is no joke, allowing you access to your discarded instants and sorceries like a reusable Snapcaster Mage. This method of card advantage makes Kess builds especially resilient, a boon that has earned her a spot as one of the top cEDH commanders, but for us casual players, the resilience can be wasted, as counterspells aren’t nearly as omnipresent.


Skimming the Spellbook

Taigam is up first. The most noticeable difference between Taigam, Ojutai Master and many traditional Spellslinger commanders is that Taigam includes white in his color identity. White can play a role similar to red in spellslinger decks by providing efficient removal and board wipes, such as Swords to Plowshares and Slaughter the Strong. Although we lose access to red’s rituals, we gain access to white’s suite of tutors, such as Enlightened Tutor, in exchange.

Of course, the most important part of a commander is the text box, and Taigam’s does not disappoint. By giving your instant and sorcery spells Rebound, he essentially acts as a Double Vision (with a small restriction). This allows you to employ a variety of strategies and accumulate extra value while doing so: you could take the Feather, the Redeemed route and build a Voltron Spellslinger deck, or you can abuse cast triggers such as Aetherflux Reservoir in a traditional Storm-style finish. Taigam also goes great in the 99 of decks looking to repeatedly cast the same spells, such as Kykar, Wind’s Fury Polymorph decks and Cascade decks.

Shifting in the other direction of the color pie gives us our Gruul Spellslinger commander, Wort, the Raidmother. Like Taigam, Ojutai Master, Wort has the potential to copy most or all of your instant and sorcery spells for extra value by giving them Conspire. Her biggest hurdle is her mana cost, but as Staple Remover – Cultivate + Kodama’s Reach covers, a curve of green two-mana ramp into four-mana ramp spells, such as Skyshroud Claim, can easily mitigate that cost while simultaneously allowing for massive, game-changing spells.

Additionally, as mentioned earlier, red has access to fantastic spell-copying and damage-multiplying cards, such as Double Vision and Fiery Emancipation, which perfectly synergize with damage-based board wipes and finishers, such as Meteor Storm. If that fails, though, Wort is adept at employing an aggressive, creature-based strategy, like a true Raidmother.

For the most hipster of sorcerers, Toshiro Umezawa can deliver a surprisingly potent mono-black Spellslinger build. Like Kess, Dissident Mage, Toshiro makes extensive use of the graveyard, allowing you to cast instants whenever an opponent’s creature dies. This allows you to chain removal spells, such as Tragic Slip and Defile. K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth can also accelerate your gameplan considerably, all while acting as a potential finisher as it grows in size.

In a deck like Toshiro, it’s not a bad idea to pack extra win conditions, like Reanimation effects, a Storm finish with Aetherflux Reservoir, or additional card draw, such as Kothophed, Soul Hoarder. Without these, you could have a hard time finding a way to close out a game, which may not make for the best games when you’re carrying so much removal.

My personal pick for Spellslinger decks in EDH is Kaza, Roil Chaser. Unlike the infamous Mizzix of the Izmagnus, Kaza uses Wizards as a foundation for casting game-ending spells, as opposed to using other, cheaper spells; Wort, the Raidmother employs creatures in a similar way, too. Because Kaza encourages the use of Wizards, she allows for a lot of other synergies which can spice up games.

Obviously, there are a ton of synergistic Wizards that you can use as a foundation. You can pick a few different strategies, but I personally focused on Wizards that can untap Kaza, like Fatestitcher, so that she can be repeatedly used as a pseudo-“mana dork”. Once we have that foundation, we can continue to be aggressive with our Wizards, using cards like Adeliz, the Cinder Wind to put pressure on our opponents, and finally finish them off with an expensive X-spell, such as Jaya’s Immolating Inferno.

Below is my current build for Kaza, Roil Chaser. I find her to be a lot of fun, but like any deck, I’m not quite finished with her. The upcoming Strixhaven set is sure to have a lot of goodies for Spellslinger decks, too, as it features an Izzet-colored faction focused around mages!

Roil Surfing

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What do you think about giving commanders the Staple Remover treatment? What Spellslinger commanders do you love to play with the most, and are there any other archetypes with staple commanders that you avoid? Feel free to let me know in the comments!

Jaelyn is a student educator, musician, and civil rights advocate based in western Washington State. She first started seriously playing Magic: the Gathering at the Rivals of Ixalan prerelease, and has been slinging spells ever since. You can find her on most sites at @rosequartz_26, although she's most active on Twitter.