The Knowledge Pool - Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain
The Artificer Who Stole My Heart
Hi everyone! Welcome back to The Knowledge Pool!
This week I'll be writing about a commander that I've been itching to talk about since her release: Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Jhoira is my favorite new commander of 2018, making her the perfect focus for my last article of the year.
Why have I waited so long to write about Jhoira if she's my favorite new commander? Simply because I wanted to make sure that Jhoira could weather the test of time. So often it's easy to become infatuated with a new commander, build a new deck, and then lose interest after playing the deck a handful of times. This year alone I've built about a dozen new commanders, and of those, less than half are still in my arsenal. This isn't to say that decks that didn't hold my interest weren't good, but like I described in my Aurelia article, I often find myself wanting to relocate cards to other places.
I wasn't sure Jhoira would hold my interest. On a surface level, Jhoira doesn't have the characteristics that excite me. I was never in the camp of players desperate for a blue-red artifact commander, and as potent as Jhoira's ability can be, she's also fairly linear, which doesn't mix well with how I normally brew decks. Even so, I felt like I still needed to give Jhoira a chance. One of the few things working in Jhoira's favor was the fact that I love her character, and I love her original iteration, Jhoira of the Ghitu.
Jhoira of the Ghitu was one of the first commanders I brewed heavily years ago, the temptation to Suspend tons of busted spells being the motivating factor. But the deck just never happened. I loved the brew on paper, but I could never seem to pull the trigger. "Jhoira is too mean!", my playgroup would warn me, and these outbursts of concern mixed with Jhoira's similar design to my cherished Mayael the Anima deck eventually turned me towards other commanders. I would end up building a chaos focused version of Jhoira of the Ghitu, but this version of the deck just didn't fit me as a player.
When Dominaria was spoiled, and we began to see brand new art of my favorite UR legend, I couldn't have been more excited. I had no expectations for her abilities, but I hoped that whatever they were, they would be good enough to helm a Commander deck. Then, when Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain was finally spoiled, I was left with much to consider. Wizards of the Coast had finally delivered, we now had a blue-red "artifacts matter" commander. I distinctly remember debates within the community about whether or not Jhoira's affinity for Historic cards and simplicity qualified her to be the UR artifact commander we'd been waiting for, but for me this was never a concern. I didn't care that Jhoira interacted with artifacts, but the way she abused them was intriguing to me. The direction was simple: I was going to brew a Storm deck disguised as an artifact deck.
Many of you have probably heard the word "eggs" used to describe describe cheap artifacts that offer a tiny ability and usually cantrip in some way. For the uninitiated, the name "eggs" originates from the Modern deck you can check out here. Eggs isn't the only Modern strategy to abuse cheap artifacts, however, with another combo deck called "cheerios" popping up from time to time. These two decks are fundamentally different, but that's outside the scope of this series. Regardless of which breakfast food you prefer, a Commander version of "eggs" or "cheerios" seemed like an obvious direction to go with Jhoira, turning each cheap artifact into a new card and eventually storming off. Many other players reached a similar conclusion about "cheerios" being an ideal strategy, with some believing such a deck to be viable even in competitive Commander circles. Jumbo Commander, of Youtube and Command Zone fame, even made a competitive iteration that you can find here. These claims of Jhoira's stormy potency were concerning to me. It's no secret that I'm far removed from what could be considered a "competitive" Commander player, so I sought to build a version of the Weatherlight Captain that wasn't so aggressive.
I failed. I failed miserably.
If You Can't Beat Em, Join Em
Here is the deck I came up with:
Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain Draft 1
My deck was a combo deck, certainly, but I thought that focusing on less efficient combos would make my deck easier to disrupt and/or less hated at the table. Instead of two-card combos, I was running Jhoira + Paradox Engine + Banishing Knack/Retraction Helix + a free artifact + a creature that untaps when artifacts are played as a way to generate an infinite number of cast triggers, potentially infinite mana, and infinite draws. I would then draw into Aetherflux Reservoir and begin lasering my opponents to death, or else stick a Reckless Fireweaver or Altar of the Brood and burn or mill everyone out. I was also running Saheeli Rai and Liquimetal Coating as another way to create infinite instances of artifacts entering play to go with Fireweaver and Altar.
Despite the higher levels of complexity with these combos, and the multitude of moving parts, the deck failed in its original goal because it was still too consistent. Every game, starting around turn four or five, I would have Jhoira in play and a handful of artifacts to cast to begin accruing card draw. Then I would draw, and draw, and draw, and suddenly my entire deck was on the table and I was winning with Aetherflux Reservoir, no special combos required. Luckily, my playgroup was fairly forgiving the first few times this happened, but it made me realize that I just wasn't going to be able to play this deck with "normal" decks.
For many decks, I may have considered retirement once I acknowledged the monster I had created. But I couldn't bring myself to destroy this beast. It was too much fun. This deck is so much freakin' fun. If I wasn't going to take the deck apart, I decided I had to embrace the combo potential and take it to its fullest and most excessive conclusion. Out with the clunkier combos, and in with Laboratory Maniac, two-piece combos, and oppressive counter protection! This will be one of my weapons of choice against the nastier decks my opponents bring to the table.
Let's check it out!
Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain
This deck is very different than any other I've demoed so far. When I decided that I wanted to refocus this deck in a more efficient combo direction, I looked towards Jumbo Commander's list for inspiration. I really like Jumbo Commander's density of counterspells for protecting our combos, and his list also encouraged me to cut my manabase to the critically low number of 29 lands. However, I wanted my version to have a greater focus on a eggs, and in this way our lists diverge considerably.
Ideally we'll be establishing ramp on turns one and two, and then casting Jhoira on turn two. This may sound like a "Magical Christmas Land" scenario, but this deck can pull off a turn 2 Jhoira somewhat frequently thanks to the moxen (Mox Opal and friends, not the banned ones), Sol Ring, Mana Crypt, etc. Worst case, Jhoira should almost always be entering play by turn three. In my last two articles I stressed the importance of slow-rolling our commander until we were set to do the most damage. In principle, this deck wants to do the same thing, but the fact that we have so many free artifacts means that we can cast Jhoira early and usually be able to immediately cycle through a half dozen cards.
I pointed out how low our land count is, and I would like to point out another "feature" of our manabase before moving forward. Our mana is extremely greedy. We're only running eight basic lands, and we're running the bulk of the gold lands that do us damage in exchange for any color mana. We're never expecting to generate a ton of mana from our lands, and our hope is that we'll be able to seal away a game on turns 2-5. To this point, we want to be sure that we're hitting our land drops for the first few turns, but we're not terribly concerned with playing a long game. In fact, the longer a game goes, the worse shape we're in, as our spells are fairly lackluster if we're forced into matching blows with our opponents.
Simply put, we want to kill everyone else before they can establish their strategies and before they can afford to stop us.
This is another area where I diverged from Jumbo's list. Jumbo runs several cards like Torpor Orb that are great for hampering our opponents' strategies, but as far as I'm concerned, we aren't interested in interacting with our opponents in this way. This is also why we aren't running removal outside of Cyclonic Rift. The only time we want to be interacting with our opponents is when they try to disrupt our combo, and that's what the counters are for.
One small package of cards that's noticeably absent between my first list and my second are cost reducers. I didn't cut all of the cost reducing abilities, leaving behind Helm of Awakening and Etherium Sculptor and cutting Cloud Key, Semblance Anvil, Herald of Kozilek, and Foundry Inspector. These cuts were by far the hardest I had to make, as these sorts of abilities make storming off so much easier. With a single one of these on the field, suddenly 52% of our deck costs 0 mana, and 75% of our deck costs one mana or less. Part of the way I've justified this cut is by including Fabricate to give us the option for tutoring one of our cost reducers if necessary.
I will be watching this section closely, and if it seems like our capacity for storming is significantly reduced without more of these abilities, I'll add them back in. It's possible we also want Muddle the Mixture for its tutoring and protective applications, but I will make this determination based on future testing. At the moment, I've neglected Muddle the Mixture because of its UU casting cost.
Normally this is the point where I point out the various groupings I've made for the deck, and then highlight a handful of cards that standout from these categories. We'll get to these groupings shortly, but I also want to make a special section to go over our target combos. One of these combos is an infinite loop, while others simply generate tons and tons of value.
Let's start with one of the most basic combos:
Once we have infinite mana, our two primary mana sinks are Walking Ballista and Blue Sun's Zenith. Ballista will let us immediately ping everyone else to death, while Zenith will let us draw our deck, at which point we can proceed to play Laboratory Maniac and cantrips to win. It's worth noting that we can find Ballista with Trinket Mage.
Beyond this, we have a few ways to generate near infinite mana:
This combo should allow us to play out any spell we draw and begin plowing through our deck as we drop more artifacts. Ultimately we're aiming to draw into Aetherflux Reservoir. Because Reservoir cares about all spells you've cast this turn, keep count of each you've cast as you go. Once Reservoir is in play, you'll begin gaining giant chunks of life to start obliterating your opponents.
The last combo I want to point out has the potential to lock down the board.
Board Lock - Words of Wind + Jhoira + any zero cost artifact.
With Words of Wind and Jhoira on board, we can now loop our cheap artifacts, and funnel all of our mana into keeping our opponents off the board. This combo won't win the game, but once we have it rolling, we're going to be near impossible to interact with as we find a way to end the game.
One last important note for this section is to evaluate the opposition at the table, and determine your window of opportunity. There will be critical points in the game where our opponents are on the verge of taking over, and even if we're not entirely prepared to combo off, we may be forced to go for it anyway. As long as Jhoira is on board, and we have a few cheap artifacts in hand, there's the possibility that we can dig ourselves into one of our combos. Essentially, when all else fails, play some solitaire!
So for a deck like this, what are our categories? I pointed out that we're running almost no removal, and most of our other groups are sparse. Because our deck is so focused on its combo gameplan, we only really have three categories: ramp, draw/cantrips, and combo pieces. Because we've already talked about our combos in some detail, lets look at the ramp and draw that will be the fuel on our fire.
To Make a Green Deck Jealous
Most of our artifacts are included because of their low CMC and their ability to make mana or replace themselves. Our ramp choices are fairly standard fare for a Storm deck, but they're worth going over.
Like in most decks, our best cards in this section are Sol Ring, Mana Vault, and Mana Crypt. Having either of these in our opening hand greatly increases our chances of a turn two Jhoira. Beyond these, any of the moxen are great to have in our opening hand, although we'll save them until the turn we're casting Jhoira.
One card that's worth point out for its utility is Tezzeret the Seeker. Tezzeret is one of three five-drops in this deck, and he earns his spot for his ability to generate mana and tutor whatever we're missing. Most of the time, we'll immediately cash in Tezzeret to find Aetherflux Reservoir, but if we're not quite ready to go off, we can begin activating Tezzeret's plus ability and making tons of mana. The best part? After a single +1 activation, Tezzeret can use his ultimate next turn to transform all of our artifacts into 5/5 robots of doom, giving us the perfect alternate win condition if things aren't going our way.
These are the highlights of our ramp package. Cards like Mind Stone and Izzet Signet are solid two-mana options, but they aren't worth getting excited about. These more mundane options shine once Jhoira is on board, and each comes into play, draws us a card, and then taps to payback some of the mana we've lost in casting it.
Now let's go take a look at the trinkets that will cantrip us toward victory.
Out of the Blue
Of the eggs in our arsenal, I've tried to choose ones that would replace themselves or come with additional utility. In combination with Jhoira, the extra draws will help us tear through our deck to find our combo pieces. Cards like Chromatic Star and Chromatic Sphere will let us fix our mana and draw a card, while Relic of Progenitus will let us have some control over graveyards. One egg in particular that I'm excited to try out is Conjurer's Bauble. Placing a card from our graveyard onto the bottom of our deck may not seem like an impressive ability, but if that card is Aetherflux Reservoir or another combo piece, we now have the potential to get it back in hand with a tutor. Conjurer's Bauble is also better in this iteration now that I've added in fetchlands and Ponder, which give us options for shuffling our deck.
Outside of eggs, I had to add a couple of classic blue spells. The trio of Brainstorm, Ponder, and Preordain are great early- or late-game plays to help us dig deeper into our deck, and potentially find our missing combo pieces.
I've added in Windfall as an option for refilling our hand once we've played out all of our eggs and rocks. Given that we should be able to unload our hand fairly quickly, there's a good chance we'll be able to draw seven or more cards as our opponents are still slowly playing out their own. I would like to point out that Wheel of Fortune or Timetwister would be superb options in place of, or alongside, Windfall, but given that I make these decks based on my current collection, neither was an option at the moment.
I've found that Riddlesmith is an excellent card in this deck. Having redundancy with Jhoira, especially at two mana, is ideal, and if we can get both on board at the same time, digging two deep will give us a really good chance of finding whatever we're missing. I would like to point out that Sensei's Divining Top is particularly good with Riddlesmith and Jhoira. We can look three deep into our deck, find a cheap artifact, and use Top's ability to draw that artifact. We can play the cheap artifact we've drawn, redraw Top, and repeat. This little loop can allow us to see tons of cards really quickly, and given that Top relies on colorless mana, we should be able to make this work many times. If we can add in a mana reducer to this "combo," Top suddenly becomes costless, and we'll be digging twice as easily.
I acknowledged Paradoxical Outcome in the combos section above, but it's worth pointing out again here. With our cheap artifacts, Outcome will draw us tons of cards and let us reset our cheap ramp. Retract and Hurkyl's Recall perform similarly, but they don't draw us cards for each artifact we bounce. It's worth noting that these three can also serve as protection for our board in a pinch. Is somebody trying to Merciless Eviction for artifacts? Bounce 'em in response!
The Cut List
We've now gone over the bulk of the cards in this list, and addressed their functionality. I want to point out a handful of cards that didn't quite make the cut, although they're on my radar.
Again, I would like to point out that I'm concerned about how this deck will perform without the additional cost reducers. These are at the top of this list for me.
Riddlesmith is good for the sake of redundancy, and I think that we could potentially include Artificer's Assistant to help in this area as well. Sure, Assistant doesn't draw us cards, but the extra scry could potentially help us filter out any bad draws in our future.
Phyrexian Metamorph and Sculpting Steel are both excellent cards that didn't make the cut because they're too mana intensive. I also feel that copy abilities are not at their best in a deck like this one when so many of their potential targets do very little.
Metalworker was in my original list, but its lack of haste - and the fact that we empty our hand so quickly - often limited its usefulness.
Mystic Remora and Rhystic Study could both be great in a deck like this, especially if we can power them out early. At the moment, I think we have enough on-theme ways to draw cards, but if we're ever lacking in draw power, I would probably start with Remora.
Whir of Invention is an excellent card, but the reason for its omission is obvious: our manabase is too greedy. I've neglected to include Muddle the Mixture because of its UU casting cost, so at UUU, Whir seems like it would be challenging most of the time. If not for the challenges in casting Whir of Invention, it would be an excellent inclusion here, as we could use it to find almost any artifact in our deck at instant speed. If you're not concerned about it being occasionally dead in your hand, give this card a shot. I might give it a chance in the future.
BONUS: Cut List High Rollers Version
I've pointed out in several previous articles that my decklists tend to be tailored to my collection. A deck like this one is using most of the more expensive cards in my collection, but my collection isn't as robust as some out there. For instance, I own a Wheel of Fortune, but it's in another deck that needs it more and I don't see myself spending $80-100 any time soon when Windfall is a reasonable replacement.
This is a deck that could benefit mightily from some old and particularly expensive cards, and since we're aiming for as potent a deck as possible, I would like to address those even if I can't include them myself.
If there was any one card I would add to this list, it would be Lion's Eye Diamond (LED). It's no surprise that LED would be good here, as it's a free artifact that makes stupid amounts of mana, and we can likely play around the downside without much trouble. In the worst case scenario, we never even activate LED, and just take advantage of its free cost. I would swap out Mishra's Bauble in a heartbeat to include this card, and of the cards in this section, this is the only one I could see myself picking up in the future.
Candelabra of Tawnos would be an excellent inclusion in this deck. At one mana, Candelabra is at the same CMC as many of our eggs, and we can channel our colorless mana from our various rocks into it to untap our lands and make colored mana.
At the moment, our manabase is already on the higher end of available options. However, one incredibly potent upgrade is Mishra's Workshop. If you're lucky enough to have one of these, or have $2000 to burn, this is the best land you could have in an artifact deck. If you don't, however, the deck is still bonkers fun anyway.
Thank you all for taking the time to read my article! I hope my favorite new commander of 2018 is exciting to you all as well!
I can't believe that I've had the privilege to write for EDHREC for a year now, and I couldn't be more grateful that so many of you take the time to read what I have to say. I'm looking forward to this new year, and all the awesome new commander goodies on the horizon, and I'll do my best to keep coming up with decklists to share with you all.
Until next year, I wish you all the best, happy holidays, and happy brewing!