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The Knowledge Pool – Aurelia, the Warleader
Leading the War
Hi everyone! Last time on The Knowledge Pool we talked about one of my nightmare decks. This time we’re going to look at one of my oldest commanders, but one that I no longer play. We’re exploring one of my retired commanders, Aurelia, the Warleader.
There’s a lot to unpack with a commander like this. When we think of a commander as being “retired,” there’s the implied sense that there’s something wrong with the deck. In this case, the deck performed admirably, but was taken apart for other reasons. I found myself playing my other decks more, and simply I wanted to relocate the cards in my Aurelia build. I haven’t played this deck in years, and with so much time passed, I wanted to take a look back and see how I would update the deck with a bunch of new toys. I’m also curious to see how my brewing philosophies have changed over time, and how I would update my strategy.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the Boros color combination. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Boros, but the red and white slices of the color pie don’t include many good options for ramp or card draw, although red has gotten a few more toys in recent years. This means that we’ll have trouble keeping up with our opponents in blue, green, or black, but we do have a few tricks up our sleeve. Thanks to white, we’ll be able to remove creatures with ease, and can deal with enchantments and artifacts as well. Plus, what Boros decks may lack in longevity they make up for with their ability to punch hard and fast. Essentially, we need to build heavily for the long game, and focus on reusable abilities to make up for our limited draw.
However, there is one additional frustration with the Boros colors, one that seems to pop up with each new legend that’s released. So far, the vast majority of Boros commanders are combat-focused, and those that aren’t don’t do a particularly good job of alleviating the weaknesses of the colors in a multiplayer format. Depala, Pilot Exemplar was the closest we’ve gotten to a commander that offers card advantage, but the limited number of Dwarves and Vehicles means that building options are limited. I also quite like the design of Firesong and Sunspeaker, but the six CMC means we’ll be particularly vulnerable when our commander goes down.
So instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, let’s play into the strengths of Boros. Of our potential combat-focused commanders, I feel like Aurelia offers one of the most potent attacks, although Gisela, Blade of Goldnight could also work well for the strategy we’ll be employing. Looking at EDHREC, the primary themes associated with Aurelia are: Angels, Equipment, and Extra Combats, but we’re not going to build using any of these themes as a primary focus. Back when I first designed my Aurelia deck, EDHREC didn’t exist, and I had to brew my decks with only the input of my friends. I ultimately wanted to make the most out of Aurelia’s ability, treating her as the ultimate bomb to propel my team to victory. To accomplish this, I went with a token theme to fit the strengths of both red and white, and offering me a wide enough attack force to make the most of Aurelia’s extra combat steps. Another advantage of a token theme here is that there are many token makers that can be triggered multiple times over the course of several turns, so we’re never wasting our mana, and additionally won’t lose out on card advantage. I also included a small Equipment package to make our individual tokens formidable on their own.
With this design, I found the deck to be fairly consistent, and I found that it could hang around for a longer game. Token decks tend to be soft to Wraths, but I found that this one was fairly resilient and could win out of nowhere.
This week I’m going to approach deck construction a little bit differently. I’m going to show you the original iteration of my Aurelia deck, but instead of going into detail about the card choices in the original list, I’m going to look at each category of card and suggest the changes I would make now.
Let’s check out where my deck was when it was retired.
Aurelia, the Warleader
One of the first things I notice about this deck is the curve. An average cost of 3.63 isn’t unreasonable, but the glut of four- and five-drop spells is a bit concerning to me, given that we’ll be presumably behind in the ramp race. It’s also particularly light on ramp, and I think a few additional rocks would do us some good. A few extra lands would also ensure we don’t miss out on casting Aurelia.
I feel that a few of my card choices were questionable. For example, I feel like the Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Restoration Angel combo is a bit out of place here, especially since we don’t have a way to reliably tutor for either piece if we’re looking to end a game. Sure, neither of these cards are bad in a deck like this, and blinking or copying a Siege-Gang Commander could be a nice influx of tokens, but I think both of these spots could be used for more synergistic options.
What did I do well with this deck? I think this deck did a pretty good job with removal, including an even density of options for creatures, artifacts, and enchantments. This is one area in particular where recent sets will offer us a lot of upgrades, and I’m excited to punch up this section. I also think this deck has done a good job of leveraging its lack of graveyard interaction by including good grave hate options. Not many decks get to run Rest in Peace, but for those that can, it completely hoses any deck at the table aiming to treat the grave as a resource.
I feel like this deck could benefit mightily from an overhaul of the combat tricks and anthem effects, and I think there are several additional ways we can enhance our ability to draw cards.
Here are the cards I consider to be easy targets for replacement, in no particular order:
The Chopping Block
Cutting these cards would free up almost 20 spots for new cards. As we’re considering which cards we want to add, I want to focus on the following categories: Token Makers, Combat Enhancers, Ramp, Draw, and Removal. I would also like to point out that the swaps I plan to make aren’t exclusively additions of cards released in the last two years. There are several cards that were available when I originally designed this list that I feel should have been included here, and I think we can make some swaps to make them fit.
Let’s start with our update of Token Makers.
At the moment, our deck is sitting at around 20 token-making cards, and I can say from experience that this number will allow us to consistently keep dudes on board and rebuild if we get disrupted.
In all decks, my favorite token makers are those that can make armies at instant speed, or else represent a constant influx of tokens. In these categories, Luminarch Ascension, Secure the Wastes, Decree of Justice, and White Sun’s Zenith stand out as some of the best token makers in this deck. To continue along this theme, I think Sacred Mesa is a card this deck desperately wants, letting us turn a few extra mana into dudes each turn. I also think Chandra, Flamecaller has a home in this deck, offering a suite of abilities that hits all of our needs: tokens, card draw, and creature removal.
I also quite like Hero of Bladehold in a deck like this, as it offers a solid body, a consistent stream of dudes, and an ability that makes our army more ferocious. Typically I’m not a big fan of abilities that require me to attack as they give our opponents a window of time to ruin our strategy, but in an aggressive deck like this, I think making tokens through combat is more acceptable. If we’re okay with making tokens this way, Hanweir Garrison, Brimaz, King of Oreskos, and Goblin Rabblemaster will help us keep a consistent stream of dudes on the way.
The last card I would like to add is Tempt with Vengeance. In a deck that has a variety of ways to make tokens threatening, we’re not afraid of letting our opponents have a few small dudes. Worst case, Tempt with Vengeance is a sorcery speed Secure the Wastes, but if we can tempt a few opponents, we might be in position to take down a board quickly.
So what cards are coming out to make these swaps? Since we’re happy with the number of token makers we have, we want to try and swap token makers for token makers. If we’re swapping cards with similar functionality, we want our swaps to lower our curve or give us more consistency. Here’s how I envision the changes:
- Increasing Devotion -> Brimaz, King of Oreskos
- Elspeth Tirel -> Hanweir Garrison
- Geist-Honored Monk -> Sacred Mesa
- Assemble the Legion -> Goblin Rabblemaster
- Captain of the Watch -> Chandra, Flamecaller
- Rise of the Hobgoblins -> Tempt with Vengeance
For the most part these swaps are trading expensive one-shot abilities for cheaper, consistent abilities. Naturally, I didn’t cut all of the cards with one-shot effects, keeping the ones that seemed most impactful, like Siege-Gang Commander.
One card that appears in a lot of Boros decks that might seem like a strange cut is Assemble the Legion. Assemble the Legion can certainly grow out of control, but at five mana, I think this card is likely too slow most of the time.
Now that we’ve overhauled our token makers, let’s move on to combat enhancers.
This portion of the deck is the second most crucial following the Token Makers, giving our army enough “oomph” to push on through. Let’s see what we’re working with.
Looking at the cards I included here, I think my original design was actually a bit overboard in this category. Cards like Sublime Archangel are cute when they work, but they’re a bit one dimensional and low impact if the board isn’t set up to abuse them. I want to increase the utility of our options here with cards like The Immortal Sun, which offers our dudes a power boost, ramps us, and draws us cards. Sword of the Animist also provides our guys a small boost, and then helps us with our ramping problem.
One subcategory in this section that has gotten a new toy since this original design is Protection. The only real protection our army had in the original list had was Boros Charm, while cards like Swiftfoot Boots and Lightning Greaves were rather lackluster inclusions in a field of tokens. Now we have access to Teferi’s Protection, which is everything this deck could have hoped for in a protection spell, shielding us from removal, combos, and other decks that might try to attack us in return.
Swapping in these cards is rather easy:
- Lightning Greaves -> The Immortal Sun
- Swiftfoot Boots -> Sword of the Animist
- Sublime Archangel -> Teferi’s Protection
I mentioned that my original build was over the top in this category, and beyond these swaps, there are several more cards that I think we can cut. I think we can easily remove Dictate of Heliod and True Conviction with out losing too much punching ability. I’ve also changed my mind on Elesh, Norn Grand Cenobite since I originally designed this list. As good as Elesh Norn is in Commander, she seems like a trap in a token strategy. It’s far too easy for an opponent to steal our Elesh Norn and suddenly lock us out of the game. We’re going to cut these three cards, but we won’t be replacing them with similar functionality. We have other weaknesses we need to patch up.
Ramp and Draw
Let’s address those weaknesses now: Ramp and Card Draw.
Ramp and Draw
For both of these categories, I feel like I could have built these sections better from the beginning. There are many cards I’ll add in here that probably should have been in the deck before it was retired.
Before we get into the new adds, let me quickly point out again that some of the cards we’ve included in previous sections were added here because of their utility. These cards are Chandra, Flamecaller as a draw spell, Sword of the Animist as a ramp option, and The Immortal Sun, which falls into both categories.
One card I can’t believe I didn’t have in this list is Mentor of the Meek. This card is a no-brainer for a deck like this, and should let us turn a few mana each turn into a couple more cards. Especially in combination with new additions Goblin Rabblemaster and Brimaz, King of Oresko that make small bodies without any additional investment, Mentor should offer us significant draw power.
Recently I’ve grown to appreciate red’s looting abilities more and more, and having Faithless Looting will give us a cheap way to filter through some cards early. The fact that we can use its Flashback ability later on means that this one spell will let us see a lot of cards.
Similarly to Faithless Looting, Reforge the Soul will give us a complete reload. Even if we don’t use the Miracle ability, five mana to see seven new cards seems like a good deal. I’ve also included Slate of Ancestry to take advantage of our go-wide strategy, giving us a reusable way to power through our deck until we have the pieces we need.
With the inclusion of these six cards, we now have around 10 ways to draw cards, which should help us stick around for a longer game. Here’s what I’m swapping to make room:
- Dictate of Heliod -> Faithless Looting
- True Conviction -> Reforge the Soul
- Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite -> Slate of Ancestry
- Restoration Angel -> Mentor of the Meek
Now let’s talk about ramp. My inclusions here aren’t groundbreaking, to say the least, but I think they will help with consistency.
Fellwar Stone and Mind Stone are classic mana rocks, and will give us additional plays on turn two. Mind Stone in particular has the added bonus of letting us trade in our rock later on for card draw. I’ve also included Burnished Hart as a three-mana way to get us some extra lands into play.
Let’s make these swaps:
With all of these changes, we’re closing in on our last category: removal. Let’s see what we can update there.
I pointed out in the beginning that I actually feel my original deck did admirably as far as removal was concerned. This is one area in particular where I think the new cards we’ve gotten from recent sets will offer us some upgrades.
Return to Dust is a classic Commander removal spell, but the new Crush Contraband seems like an easy replacement. Crush Contraband lets us get rid of two things at instant speed while trading a little in the way of modality, which is an exchange I’m happy to make.
Oblation and Kor Sanctifiers are good cards, but I think we can actually replace these with a few other cards outside the realm of removal. Anointed Procession seems like a natural inclusion as a way to increase our token output. I originally didn’t have Sun Titan in this deck because of the rather even distribution of mana costs, but now that we’ve realigned with more two- and three-drops, I think Sun Titan has a home in this deck to grind value.
That brings us to our last swap:
- Akroma’s Vengeance -> Cleansing Nova
- Return to Dust -> Crush Contraband
- Oblation -> Anointed Procession
- Kor Sanctifiers -> Sun Titan
The last objective I outlined in the beginning of this article was to increase the land count. So what else can we cut?
I would like to hit 38 lands in this deck for the sake of consistency, so four more cuts are necessary. Aggravated Assault was originally included as a backup to Aurelia, but I think it’s too mana-intensive for our strategy. It seems strange to suggest cutting Sandstone Oracle, given that I’ve stressed card draw as a weakness, but with all the additional draw we’ve added, I think a seven-mana 4/4 flyer that relies on our opponents having large hands is probably not where we want to be. Urabrask the Hidden is a great card, and this is a deck that’s happy to have haste, but I think this deck is happier with Ogre Battledriver for that ability. Finally, I love Goblin Bombardment, but I don’t think it’s at its best in this deck. We can sacrifice our creatures as a last resort, but we really don’t want to remove our dudes if we can help it, and we don’t have many ways to take advantage of death triggers.
With these cuts we get to make the following swap:
- +4 lands.
I think at this point I’m happy with how our deck has shaped up. Let’s take a look at our final product.
Aurelia, the Warleader 2.0
I hope this week’s article has been interesting to you all! It’s fun to look back at old decks and see how you would do things differently. I have a few more decks like this, and I may revisit them over time.
Until next time, I wish you all the best, and happy brewing!