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The Knowledge Pool – Grand Warlord Radha
Hi everyone! Welcome back to the Knowledge Pool!
One of my favorite cards from Dominaria is Grand Warlord Radha, and from the moment I saw it, I’ve been considering how she might function in Commander. Not all of my brews end up turning into decks – in fact, most of them don’t – but it’s always easy for me to tell which decks will hold my attention over time. Decks that survive the brewing process continue to pique my interest the longer I brew, with each new interaction I discover causing a cascade of excitement. My Radha deck is composed of a confluence of ideas that have meshed well enough to truly excite me, mixing aggression with synergy to produce explosive plays out of nowhere.
Of my last three articles, two have focused on token decks, and both of those revolved around “fat” tokens as opposed to generating an army of tokens. However, when I want to play a “go-wide” strategy in Commander, I tend to prefer tokens in comparison to weenies (small creatures). This is mainly because tokens are expendable and easily created, so we get to play around with a variety of traditionally powerful abilities. In particular, an army of small tokens offers us a consistent source of sacrifice fodder, bodies to trigger “enter the battlefield” abilities, or attackers that we won’t mind losing in battle.
For these reasons, when considering Grand Warlord Radha as a commander, tokens seemed like an obvious choice. Radha rewards us for each additional body we can send at our opponents, so we want to be attacking as much as possible and with as many dudes as possible, even if it means they don’t survive combat. What is the reward Radha offers us for all this attacking? So. Much. Mana.
A Ritual on a Stick
Now that we know we’re going to be working with a token variant of Radha, we can begin to visualize the sorts of synergies that will become the soul of the deck. Since Radha will be generating tons of mana each time we attack with our army, we want to consider potential mana sinks. Most obviously, we can use the extra mana to cast more spells, but if we generate a lot of mana, we want to be sure we can use all of it most of the time. X-cost spells represent a perfect mana sink for a deck like this, offering us large effects that scale with the size of our army. Another mana sink to consider are the activated abilities of our permanents. There are many activated abilities that we can trigger an indefinite number of times, many of which can help us to grow our army for the following turn. Also, because Radha’s ability triggers when we declare attacks, we can even potentially use the mana to activate abilities that influence combat, buffing our dudes or making them evasive.
A side effect of Radha’s aggression-encouraging ability is that we can capitalize on other abilities that trigger when we declare attackers, or else we can make use of abilities that care about us owning tapped creatures. These effects provide us an important back-up plan should we fail to keep Radha on board, letting us stick to our aggressive token strategy.
Survival of the Fittest
I’ve mentioned that we want to be attacking with most of our dudes regardless of their survival. Ideally, we will find somebody at the table lacking blockers, or else we’ll focus on the player most likely to send a Wrath in our direction, to keep our guys around. But what do we do when the board is gummed up and we’re bound to lose some bodies? We sacrifice them. The GR colors offer us a variety of ways to sacrifice creatures for value, some of which we can activate with the mana we generate with Radha. This means that any time one of our creatures is destined to die, we will have an opportunity to extract value from them, to make the loss less painful.
When we piece all of these elements together, we end up with a highly synergistic brew with outs for the worst-case scenarios. One of the aspects that made this deck so appealing to me is how well these abilities overlap in red and green. We can build a cohesive design that doesn’t feel disjointed despite the variety of themes we’re trying to combine.
Deck Goals: We will overwhelm our opponents with an army of small, expendable tokens. The mana we generate with Radha will be used to cast additional spells and activate abilities to help us reach a critical mass for a lethal strike.
Before I present the deck to you all, I wanted to introduce a new element of The Knowledge Pool. I’ve created a TappedOut account for this series, and I will be posting each new deck to it as the articles go live. This will let you get a more visual interpretation of the deck’s curve and color breakdown. I will also label each card with Custom Categories as a potential sorting option. This will allow you all to see how I’ve personally defined the cards in the decks, and what I intended their roles to be. I try to cover most of these aspects in detail in my articles, but if you’re looking for a summary, the TappedOut list should act as such. Over time, I’ll upload the previous lists I’ve showcased so that you can find all of the Knowledge Pool lists in one place. You can find the Radha deck here.
Radha and Her Horde
Of the nonland cards in the deck, token makers make up the widest share of cards with 26 unique options. Beyond these, the bulk of our deck is focused on synergizing with tokens and attacking. We have a 7 ways of buffing our creatures to make them more threatening in combat, and we have 6 ways of generating extra burn damage with our tokens. Finally, we have 5 sacrifice outlets, and while they can apply to any creature, they are best referenced alongside the tokens as the primary sacrifice fodder.
When thinking about small token makers in a Commander context, I tend to divide them into two classes: consistent and one-shot.
Consistent token makers are those that generate tokens on more than one occasion, usually turn to turn. This kind of token generator is great for building up an army over time, and allows us to make a smaller initial mana investment with a high long-term ceiling. Also, having a consistent source of tokens means that we can send our tokens into battle with the realistic expectation that any dead tokens will soon be replaced. The downside of these generators is that they tend to be slower, and have the potential to die before making many tokens.
One-shot token makers are those that generate tokens a single time. Because these cards only make tokens once, they tend to make a lot of tokens when they’re cast. Here the upside is obvious; we get to make a lot of tokens all at once, giving us more power to send at our opponents. However, when these tokens die, we can’t so easily make more of them, and long term, a consistent token generator is more likely to outpace them.
Because of the clear pros and cons of each type of token generator, I opt to build my decks with a mix of each. In the Radha deck, for instance, we have 16 consistent token generators and 11 one-shot generators. As a conservative player, I tend to prefer the more consistent token making options, but many of the one-shot generators are too potent to be ignored. Let’s dig into each of these in a bit more detail.
For both types of generators, I tried to include options with a variety of casting costs. Our early-game plays have the potential to net us tokens as the game progresses, while our late-game spells present token makers that are more overwhelming.
Starting on the lower end we have 5 options costing less than 3 mana: Kher Keep, Dragonmaster Outcast, Dragon Whisperer, Jade Mage, and Tilonalli’s Summoner. Outcast and Whisperer both look out of place for this deck at first glance. Neither work towards our goal of going wide, but I like the inevitability they represent. Outcast in particular is an easy turn 1 play that our opponents will have little incentive to remove. If we play it early, it will often get sucked up with a Wrath, but if it survives until the mid-game it will start generating tokens every turn. Whisperer is a solid turn 2 play, and doubles as a mana sink for Radha. The kicker, in both cases, is that they’re much more threatening as the game moves forward, becoming “must remove” targets once we hit 6 lands and 8 power, respectively.
Jade Mage is a card I never appreciated until I started building this deck. 3 mana seems like a lot for a token, but when you consider that you can activate the ability the turn after casting her, suddenly the design seems more elegant. In this deck, Mage is a great mana sink for Radha, letting us turn extra mana into more dudes.
Tilonalli’s Summoner is another card that scales really well as the game goes on, and in a deck like this, we should have no problems activating Ascend. The more mana we have, the more dudes it can create. It should also be noted that we can stack Summoner’s trigger behind Radha’s such that we can pump Radha’s mana into Summoner. Once we trigger Ascend, Summoner will be one of our best rates for generating tokens, with the caveat that it has a very tiny body.
Rabblemaster and Assault will provide us an extra hasty token per turn. While this doesn’t seem particularly powerful at 3 mana, it effectively represents an additional mana every turn in combination with Radha. We don’t have a lot of other Goblins in this deck, but if we can manage to make a handful of Goblin tokens, Rabblemaster has the potential to do a lot of damage itself.
Nissa and Xenagos have the potential to provide us an extra body per turn. However, in most cases we will be more interested in the other abilities these two offer. Nissa can pump all of our tokens permanently, while Xenagos can generate an explosive amount of mana.
Admittedly, we don’t have a ton of amazing targets for Elemental Mastery, but if we can even enchant Radha with it, we’ll be able to create 3 hasty bodies per turn, and thus 3 additional mana per turn. If we enchant something like Ant Queen, we have the ability to generate even more. The upside of Mastery is that it spares the enchanted creature from combat, while providing us a small army of super expendable tokens.
The remaining consistent generators are some of this deck’s heaviest hitters, several of which threaten to make several tokens on a consistent basis.
Ant Queen is a more efficient Jade Mage, making it an ideal mana sink for this deck. Tendershoot Dryad, Dragon Broodmother, and Dragonlair Spider all make multiple tokens with each trip around the table. Any one of these four has the potential to run away with the game on its own by making a huge army.
The last consistent generator is Chandra Flamecaller. Her plus ability gives us two hasty bodies, and with Radha, two additional mana. Her zero gives us an amazing source of reusable filtering, while her minus can act as a last resort Wrath effect if an opponent gets out of control.
Our one-shot token generators tend to have more diverse roles in our deck than the consistent generators.
Hangarback Walker scales well with the state of the game, and as an X spell, it can be a good mana sink for Radha’s mana. However, the reason it’s included here is because it functions so well as a turn 2 play. We can grow it each turn, potentially generating a ton of tokens if it bites the dust, which gives us some Wrath insurance, not to mention the ability to build a larger army later in the game. Hooded Hydra fits into a similar category as Walker, but with Morph potential.
Tempt with Vengeance is part of a divisive cycle of cards in the Commander community. At this point, most players know that you’re not supposed to take the Tempting Offer, as it almost always puts the spell’s caster at a massive advantage. However, in my experience, it’s normally possible to persuade at least one player to take the offer, and if one person takes the offer it puts a lot of pressure on the other opponents to also accept. For our purposes, we don’t care if our opponents accept the offer or not. If they take the offer, we will end up with an army of tokens so big that it will invalidate our opponent’s dudes. If they don’t take the offer, Vengeance is a effectively a sorcery-speed Secure the Wastes that we can pump Radha’s mana into.
Pia and Kiran Nalaar and Siege-Gang Commander both create a small army upon entering the battlefield, and both have the ability to sacrifice other permanents to deal burn damage. While both function as token makers, they can also work as removal spells and mana sinks if we’re desperate to get a troublesome creature off the board.
Wolfbriar Elemental and Hydra Broodmaster are two of the one-shot heavy hitters, and both function as mana sinks that threaten to put a lot of power on the board. Avenger of Zendikar is also one of our top-end cards, and while not a mana sink, will usually bring a sizable army when it enters the battlefield.
Artifact Mutation, Arachnogenesis, Fresh Meat, and Ezuri’s Predation give us the potential to make tokens with our utility spells. There will almost always be an artifact at the table for us to kill with Mutation. Getting the tokens is just a bonus. Even blowing up something like a Sol Ring will tamper with our opponent’s plans, and net us a dude in the process. Arachnogenesis is the kind of card that can save us on the “crack-back”. If we attack into our opponent, and they attack us the following turn thinking the coast is clear, we can use the opportunity to create an army of Spiders that might even eat a few of their dudes. Fresh Meat is Wrath protection, and will let us replace our token army with 3/3 Beasts. We can use Fresh Meat proactively too, after we’ve sacrificed a bunch of tokens, to effectively buff our team. Finally, Ezuri’s Predation is one of this deck’s Wraths. Most of our opponents’ creatures will get eaten by Predation, and we have the potential to come out of the exchange with a ton of additional bodies. If one of our opponents is also playing a token deck, Predation has the potential to put us in line for a lethal strike the following turn.
Buffs and Burn
Now that we know how we’re going to be making tokens, the more synergistic elements of the deck will be easier to identify.
If we’re planning to overrun our opponents, we need to make our team bigger. Our best ways for accomplishing this is through Beastmaster Ascension, Thunderfoot Baloth, and Craterhoof Behemoth. These three will be our best options for pushing damage through a clogged board, giving our tiny dudes a giant buff in size.
Ogre Battledriver will offer our guys a temporary buff, but his inclusion is in large part due to the haste he offers as well.
Should our opponents survive combat, we want a few additional ways to whittle them away. Hellrider and Throne of the God-Pharaoh both reward us for attacking with so many creatures, and while 1 additional damage per creature doesn’t sound like a lot, it will add up quickly with the army we’ll compose.
Finally, Purphoros, God of the Forge is notorious for its ability to burn away opponents, and we will be putting so many creatures into play that the God has the potential to be a win condition on its own. It also has an often-forgotten activated ability that grants a power buff, making Purphoros a potential mana sink.
When Dark-Dweller Oracle was spoiled I was incredibly excited. It fits this deck perfectly. Oracle is equal parts sac outlet, card draw, and mana sink, giving us the chance to bin an expendable token and use Radha’s mana to cast spells off the top of our deck.
Evolutionary Leap lets us turn any dying tokens into creatures in hand, while Perilous Forays turns them into land drops. Between Oracle, Leap, and Forays, we have three ways to turn our tokens into other resources depending on the state of the game.
The bulk of this deck revolves heavily on tokens and their aggressive application. However, there are still a handful of remaining cards that work incredibly well in a deck like this that don’t directly help us deal extra damage.
Among ramp options, Druids’ Repository rewards us for all the attacking we plan to do, and Harvest Season will turn all of our tapped attackers into land drops. Cryptolith Rite is worth considering in any deck with a ton of expendable bodies, and can help us to power out some of our top-end spells early.
Comet Storm, Scavenging Ooze, and Shaman of Forgotten Ways are more mana sinks that fit this deck particularly well. Comet Storm is a great reward with Radha’s mana. Ooze is graveyard hate that we can pump our mana into. Shaman is an interesting choice for this deck because of its Formidable ability. We should be able to hit 8 power fairly easily, and with Radha’s extra mana we’ll be able to activate its Biorhythm ability. In most cases we will have the most creatures on board, but be careful of instant-speed Wraths!
Finally, there are two potential infinite combos in this deck, although both are conditional. With either Hellkite Charger or Aggravated Assault we can potentially generate infinite combat steps using the extra mana Radha delivers. Of course, these require us to have a sizable board presence to pull off, but in a deck like this, extra combat steps aren’t a bad thing on their own.
What Missed the Cut
Another new feature I would like to add to this series is a list of cards that I think are in close contention for a spot in the final deck list. One of the most challenging parts about putting a new brew together is cutting cards to reach the 100 card limit, and in my experience the first few iterations of a new deck are primarily designed based on theory. Naturally, some of the cards I’ve listed will underperform, and for those situations I plan to replace them to try new things. The following are some of the cards that I plan to keep in mind as time goes by.
Two cards that fit our mana sink theme are Genesis Hydra and Genesis Wave. As high of a ceiling as these effects have, I’m always cautious when evaluating them because they do have the opportunity to miss badly. However, this deck does have a high number of permanents, and considering the instants and sorceries included, we only have 12 true misses. I think the floor is high enough here that these two deserve testing at some point.
If it turns out that we’re having trouble connecting with our army, I’m likely to swap in Eldrazi Monument and/or Gruul War Chant. These are two of the better “anthem” effects in our colors. Triumph of the Hordes is another card I would consider, to steal a win, and Overwhelming Stampede could provide us with Craterhoof redundancy. However, Hordes and Stampede are both one-time effects, and I tend to prefer more permanent ways of pumping my teams.
Finally, a card that fits our attacking and ramping theme nicely is Nature’s Will. Given that we should have an army of tokens, we should almost always be able to connect with one of our opponents to untap our lands, and I imagine it’s not a huge stretch to imagine that we could even tap down most of our enemies with this enchantment too! I might try this card at some point, but for this iteration I decided to include more token generators to have a better chance of synergizing with Radha.
Thank you all for taking the time to read my article! I’m really excited about this deck, and I’m excited to hear what you all think of it. Let me know what you think of the format changes I’ve made, and if they’re beneficial to you.
Until next time, I wish you all the best and happy brewing!