The Knowledge Pool — Maelstrom Wanderer Part 2
Hi everyone! Welcome back to the Knowledge Pool. Last time I wrote about the times when the decks we build don't meet our expectations, and I introduced you to my Maelstrom Wanderer deck. If you have not yet read part 1, it can be found here.
At the end of my previous article, I requested that you all make suggestions to help with overhauling the Wanderer deck, and many of you took the time to give me some awesome ideas. Several themes became apparent to me as I read through your comments. First, most players are drawn to Wanderer because of the chaotic nature of the cascade ability. Wanderer's cascade triggers tend to skew our focus towards a high curve, and while we can set a high floor for these cascades by adding redundant effects, we can also take another route and aim for the highest ceiling possible. From your comments, it seems like most players would prefer the latter approach, intending to achieve the most explosive outcomes possible from each cascade. The second theme I noticed was that most players like the "theft" spells that blue and red offer (i.e. Acquire, Knowledge Exploitation, etc). These spells add to the chaotic nature of Wanderer's ability, as we're not only relying on a successful cascade, but also our opponents having resources worth stealing. They also bring us back to the idea of aiming for a high ceiling, as they have the potential to achieve more than 7 cmc worth of value from each of our cascades.
These two ideas intrigued me. As a deck designer, I tend to stray away from both of these strategies in favor of more conservative approaches. I tend to prefer having a more consistent spread of value in my decks while avoiding cards that rely upon my opponents. For these reasons, I decided to move away from my comfort zone, and towards the following goals: we want use our commander's ability to aim for highest possible value, while using our opponents' weapons against them. I also envision the deck having a focus on "chaos". In Commander, "chaos" is typically associated with cards that randomly and rapidly change the landscape of the game (Warp World, Knowledge Pool, etc), however for this deck I consider "chaos" to mean the inclusion of high variance spells.
With these goals in mind, and with the suggestions you all made, I wound up with the following deck:
Maelstrom Wanderer, Chaotic Smashing
A Ramping Approach
The first thing that should jump out at you when you look at this deck is the curve. This deck has 34 cards with a cost in the range of 6-8. I have never built a deck with this extreme of a curve, especially when considering that 41 of the remaining cards in the deck are lands. Simply, this is a deck that needs to be playing a land every turn, and we need to spend our early turns ramping or drawing cards if we plan to take advantage of our big spells in the late game. Let's take a look at the cards we will be playing early game:
The Early Game
As we can see, of the 25 cards costing less than 6, 11 are focused towards ramp. In most decks, I'm not a proponent of cards like Burgeoning, Exploration, and Azusa, Lost but Seeking, however, for this deck I believe we can make the most of their abilities. Because we're running 41 lands there's a high chance that casting any of these three early will net us several additional land drops, and they work particularly well with our card selection options which can filter us towards more lands. They also work well with Cultivate and Kodama's Reach, letting us get immediate usage of the additional lands they provide. However, playing these cards early isn't our only concern in a Wanderer deck, as we must consider how they will fair as cascade targets. Unfortunately, like most low cmc cards, these three are not immediately impactful when we cascade into them, but when we consider the other cards on our top end, they are not as unappealing as they initially appear. In the early game Rhystic Study and Fact or Fiction help fuel these ramp options, while later game we can make the most of them by cascading into our bigger draw spells: Consecrated Sphinx, Recurring Insight, Rishkar's Expertise, and [card]Arcanis the Omnipotent[card]. The big draw spells will ensure that we always have multiple lands to play, helping us grow our board quickly.
In any Wanderer decks, ramp is a necessary evil. We need to have early game plays, and we need to cast our big commander, so we have to concede that we will occasionally cascade into a ramp spell. Cascading into ramp isn't the end of the world for a Wanderer deck, as it helps to fuel future turns, but it's generally unexciting. With a small land theme, however, we can mitigate the cost of having so much ramp in our deck. Cards like Rampaging Baloths, Omnath, Locus of Rage, Avenger of Zendikar, Zendikar Resurgent, and Ulvenwald Hydra reward us for being a land and ramp heavy deck, while doubling as threatening cascade targets. Ulvenwald Hydra is a particularly neat card in this deck as it finds one of our utility lands, should be rather gigantic, and will make our team unstoppable in conjunction with Pathbreaker Ibex.
One notable exclusion from this deck are tutors. Admittedly, including Wordly Tutor, Mystical Tutor, Personal Tutor, and Tooth and Nail would help us always achieve the highest ceiling scenario, allowing us to cascade into our best cards on demand. In the interest of designing a more high variance deck, I've omitted tutors. The variety of early game card selection options included should be more than enough to help us filter out less useful cards from our hand and our cascades.
While designing this deck, I was happy to find that it's not difficult to find an overlap of big spells and high variance spells. Looking over our list, we find the following:
In commander, spells that steal things from our opponents are always high variance, and the more modal and more permanent they are, the higher the ceiling. Reddit user JT_Kamp brought my attention to Knowledge Exploitation and Diluvian Primordial, while user hermit7 suggested Etali, Primal Storm, Bribery, and Sphinx Ambassador. Cards like Bribery and Knowledge Exploitation have the potential to net us much more value than their respective mana costs, while Etali, Primal Storm and Sphinx Ambassador let us make the most of Wanderer's haste ability. Rite of Replication is the only clone effect in the deck, but its high ceiling makes it more valuable than other Control Magic effect. Off of a Wanderer cascade, we have the opportunity to kick Rite, allowing us to create 5 copies of the best creature on board for 5 mana. Followed by Wanderer's haste ability, a kicked Rite could easily win the game. An important aspect of these kinds of effects is that we're limiting our ceiling to the level of the decks in our playgroup. If our opponents are playing powerful spells our theft spells will be potent, and the opposite is also true.
Beyond these, Prime Speaker Zegana and Rishkar's Expertise have the potential to draw us tons of cards under the right conditions, while Magus of the Mind will allow us the potential for 4 additional spells when being cast off of a cascade.
There are a countless number of cards that could have qualified for the high variance category. However, when making my selections, I focused on the cards with both the highest floor and the highest ceiling. In most cases we will need to win the game through combat, and so we need the biggest bodies possible to make the most of Wanderer's haste ability. We also prefer our big bodies to have a form of evasion, and those that don't need an ability with a high enough ceiling to invalidate the possibility of them being chump blocked. Etali fits this last category perfectly, as it doesn't need to make contact with an opponent to begin netting us additional value.
Spelljack falls into the theft category, and is one of the few counterspells we have the luxury of playing in a cascade focused deck. If we cascade into Spelljack, we have the opportunity to counter our own Wanderer, and then recast Wanderer for free, netting an additional cascade.
The potential variance of this deck should add excitement to each game. However, we still need to consider more removal and utility options if we want to make the most of our higher ceiling cards. Let's take a look at the remaining cards:
With the remaining inclusions, we're primarily concerned with a high floor. Much like my previous Mayael deck, our removal choices tend to be on the modal side. Bane of Progress is an incredible answer to artifacts and enchantments, especially given that we only have 10 total in our deck. In most game states, Bane is going to be doing a lot more damage to everyone else than us, so we don't have to be overly concerned about cascading into it. Steel Hellkite is a surgical answer to whatever is causing us problems, and with Wanderer's haste, Hellkite has the opportunity to do damage before it can be removed. The remaining four, Balefire Dragon, Tyrant's Familiar, Inferno Titan, and Frost Titan should all be able to make good use of Wanderer's haste ability, and will help us to keep the board clear of problem creatures.
Scourge of the Throne and Pathbreaker Ibex are the two pieces that help make our threats overwhelming. Both allow us to do extra damage out of nowhere off of a Wanderer cascade, while Ibex in particular benefits from our focus on larger creatures.
Greenwarden of Murasa and Verdant Confluence act as safety nets in the event that we start getting targeted with removal. My previous build ran Seasons Past instead of Confluence, but since we have a focus on lands in the deck, the modality of having a late game ramp spell seems too good to pass up. Boundless Realms also fits the category of a late game ramp spell, and like Zendikar Resurgent will let us double our mana. Having as much mana as possible is paramount given our lopsided curve, and these mana doublers will help ensure that we're not short on gas in the late game.
Finally, the last remaining bastion of my combo-centric iteration of Wanderer is Food Chain. In all honesty, Food Chain is still included because it's too much fun not too include. It's the only option we have to play Wanderer a ludicrous amount of times in one turn, and I'm hoping that the removal of game ending combos in the deck will make it less oppressive.
Into the Maelstrom
The most difficult part about writing an article like this is that everything I present is speculation. I've been building decks a long time and picked up several tips and tricks that help my success rate, but ultimately, it's always impossible to predict exactly how a deck will perform. Perhaps I'm being too ambitious with the curve in this deck, or my ramp choices are poor. Are the "high variance" cards chaotic enough, or will they be too strong? Will they be too chaotic and not strong enough?
Reading all of your suggestions, and having the chance to explore this deck again, has been a fun exercise in deck building, and I'm excited to test the results. I think this design is less oppressive than my previous build, and hopefully be a blast to play while also engaging to play against. If not, I'll make adjustments and continue to learn what I can do to make this deck a success.
Thank you all for taking the time to give me suggestions, and let me know what you think of the direction I've taken this build. There are still an endless number of ways this deck could be built, and if I'm forced to go back to the drawing board, maybe I'll try something completely different (like Wanderer Walkers?).
Until next time, I wish you all the best, and happy brewing!