The Knowledge Pool -- Saskia the Unyielding
Hi everyone! Welcome back to The Knowledge Pool. It's been a little while, but last time I teased a deck based around Helm of the Host, and after much tinkering I've come up with a list that I believe will abuse it to the fullest extent. We're going to explore the blood-drenched world of Saskia the Unyielding.
Before I get into my list, I wanted to share the thought process that lead to my final design. Let's take a look at Helm, and see what it offers us as deck builders:
The fact that Helm is an equipment is a boon for us for multiple reasons. First, there are a vast array of options for tutoring artifacts and equipment available to us in Commander. This means we can build our deck with a heavy focus on Helm, and be fairly confident that we will see it in most games. Equipment also tends to be fairly resilient, and will outlast the lives of the creatures we're suiting up. Plus, should our Helm be destroyed, permanents are easily recurred in Commander.
One of my primary sources of inspiration for this list was Commander's Brew episode #146, during which Andy and Sean discuss a Rubinia Soulsinger deck that abuses Helm's ability to copy legendary creatures. Helm lets us break a fundamental rule of Magic, the "Legend Rule," opening up a swath of deckbuilding space we're otherwise unable to access. The Commander's Brew episode got me to thinking about the kinds of abilities that would be most potent when doubled, and the legends that would offer the greatest value in multiples. This line of thinking lead me to Saskia the Unyielding. On her own, Saskia effectively marks an opponent for death, and creating multiples of Saskia gives us the potential to swiftly take down a table, or more efficiently remove a problem player. Saskia being WBRG also means that we have access to Black and White for tutoring Helm, and Green for ramping into Helm and recurring it.
My other source of inspiration was the comments you all left on my Trostani, Selesnya's Voice article. One of the main objectives of my Trostani deck is to Populate tokens of "real" creatures. In my article, I feature cards like Mimic Vat and God-Pharaoh's Gift as ways of creating token versions of our normal creatures. You all pointed out my oversight in not including Helm, and you got me thinking about the potential of abusing Helm with token-copying abilities. Luckily, Saskia is GW, so we have access to the Populate mechanic, including Trostani, as well as the best token doublers to help us make the most of Helm.
The culmination of these ideas and my commander selection lead me to several conclusions. Our deck will strive to play legends and creatures with abilities that become overwhelming in multiples. In particular, because Saskia encourages combat, we want our creatures to reward us for our aggression either through combat buffs or smashing ability. Our deck will also strive to copy the tokens we make with Helm. This means that we also want to include ways of generating tokens outside of Helm, so our token copiers are never wasted.
Let's take a look at the list I ended up with:
An Army of Heroes
A Legendary Ensemble
Including Saskia, we have 14 legendary creatures in our deck. Two of these legends are multicolored gods, and we will be hard-pressed to reach their respective Devotion requirements. This puts us at 12 potential legendary targets for Helm. When selecting these creatures, I aimed for creatures that would make the most of Saskia's ability, with the intent to deal as much damage as possible. Beyond the legends that are adept at dealing damage, 5 were chosen for their unique utility.
Of these selections, there are two clear standouts: Aurelia, the Warleader and Gisela, Blade of Goldnight. Both of these let us make the most of Saskia's ability, effectively adding an additional layer of damage doubling to our combats. They are also two of our most potent options for Helm. For each Gisela we can copy, we become much harder to kill, and our opponents become more vulnerable. Copying Aurelia allows us an infinite loop of combats that has the potential to end the game if our opponents can't produce a resilient blocker or a removal spell.
Zurgo Helmsmasher and Atarka, World Render are two of our most potent beat sticks, and in combination with Saskia and/or Helm they will eliminate our opponents quickly. With Saskia in play, a single Atarka has the potential to deal 24 evasive damage. With each additional Saskia or Atarka in play, our damage output reaches closer to lethal levels. What Zurgo lacks in evasion he makes up for with natural haste and indestructible. While these two aren't as devastating as Gisela and Aurelia, they will put intense pressure on our opponents and demand an answer.
Rhonas the Indomitable is included for his low cost and natural indestructibility. If we can copy Rhonas even once, the copy will satisfy the 4 power requirement, allowing us to attack freely. Plus, while pumping by 2 power is lackluster in most cases, in a Saskia deck it represents 4 additional damage.
Omnath, Locus of Rage provides us an alternative source of tokens, allowing us to make the most of our Populate abilities even if we don't have Helm. Omnath doesn't directly synergize with Saskia like the other legends mentioned, but the army of 5/5s it creates will by overwhelming in a hurry especially if we can start making copies of Omnath with Helm.
Finally, while Xenagos, God of Revels and Iroas, God of Victory will not often be targets for Helm, they do provide us combat-related abilities that will increase our clock. Xenagos serves as a resilient form of haste and additional damage, while Iroas helps ensure we never lose in combat.
"Good Stuff" Legends
Our remaining legends offer a supportive function to the primary engine of the deck, and each synergizes with Helm.
First, I've included Trostani, Selesnya's Voice as a continual source of Populate. Admittedly, this is not the ideal Trostani deck, but it synergizes so nicely with Helm that I felt it had to be included. We can use Trostani to copy our other Helm tokens, or else we can copy Trostani herself. Lifegain isn't a primary theme of this deck, but given that Saskia will often invoke the wrath of our target, we could do worse than gaining some life insurance with every creature we play.
Neheb, the Eternal takes advantage of the damage we'll be doing in combat and the doubling effect Saskia provides. He should provide us a ton of mana once we get our engine rolling.
Shalai, Voice of Plenty offers us an evasive body that will protect all of our other creatures. In combination with Helm, she will achieve hexproof herself, limiting the ways our opponents can interact with us. The pump ability is a bit expensive for my taste, but in a deck like this, each counter represents a lot of extra damage. Similarly, Archangel Avacyn is included for its protective functions. Avacyn's flash makes her a pseudo combat trick, and once in play, each additional token we make will turn our army indestructible.
The last legend in this deck is Sheoldred, Whispering One. This spot is fairly flexible, and I think an argument could be made for an array of other creatures. However, I like that Sheoldred can act as a source of reusable recursion, and each copy with Helm will put a greater strain on opposing creatures.
The Other Monsters
There are a few nonlegendary creatures that are worth spotlighting due to their synergy with our token theme. All of these are also incredible Helm targets.
Rampaging Baloths fills a similar role to Omnath, aiming to grow an army with little additional investment.
Giant Adephage offers a big body that will copy itself. Each additional copy we make through Helm or Populating will let us double up on our insect army.
Godsire is a perfect Helm target. Its natural vigilance means that we can attack with the original and the copy, and then use the activated ability of each to make 8/8 tokens. In combination with our other token effects, we can grow a huge army quickly. Utvara Hellkite also fills a similar role. If we can get a Helm on Hellkite, the original and the copy will both see each other attacking, netting us four 6/6 dragons. Now imagine Hellkite in combination with Atarka. Our opponents will be dead in no time.
Mimic Vat and God-Pharaoh's Gift give us alternative ways to make tokens of our dudes, and will also give us a form of recursion to bring back important pieces like Aurelia or Gisela. Another card that would fit this role beautifully is Bramble Sovereign. The only reason I've neglected Sovereign from this list is the high density of legends in our build. If you opt to skew this deck toward nonlegendary creatures, I highly recommend Sovereign as an incredible token generator.
The final card I would like to spotlight here is Combat Celebrant. Celebrant isn't physically monstrous like some of the other beasts in the deck, but it does generate the same infinite combat loops as Aurelia. Obviously, Celebrant is a much more fragile option than Aurelia, and its lack of evasion means that combo potential is more easily solved with chump blockers. However, Celebrant's cheaper casting cost---and the fact that it curves nicely into Saskia---make it a valuable threat. A deck like this will always be thankful for extra combat steps.
The Ties that Bind
Normally in my articles I tend to cover removal and utility spells at this point. However, because of this deck's unique focuses, I want to address a few of this deck's subcategories that help the engine run. Let's break it down.
While I've already covered many of the primary token-makers in depth, we also have a lot of ways of making additional tokens. I've included a handful of Populate effects, like Sundering Growth, Rootborn Defenses, and Growing Ranks. Of these, Growth and Defenses are included primarily for their removal and protection effects, respectively.
Much like my Trostani build, Parallel Lives, Anointed Procession, and Second Harvest allow us to dramatically increase our token output. While we don't have as many token makers as the Trostani deck, our focus on Helm should give us a higher ceiling for each additional token made.
Protection & Recursion
Because of our focus on Helm and Saskia, we are concerned with keeping our creatures alive. One way we can do this is through combat tricks, and like most things in Commander, I like my tricks to be modal. Mother of Runes will let us blank spot removal, while also giving our creatures a form of evasion on offense. Boros Charm gives us a way to protect our permanents, while the double strike option also gives us the opportunity to make the most of Saskia's ability. Ready // Willing has the potential to allow for a huge offensive swing, but we can also bait our opponents into running into our token army when they believe the coast is clear.
If our creatures do die, or more importantly, our Helm is destroyed, Den Protector and Eternal Witness will give us a chance to bring it back. Obzedat's Aid will also let us recur Helm, and will bring it directly back into play.
A Note on Tutors
Many of you have probably noticed that I'm not running any of the powerful black tutors like Vampiric Tutor or Demonic Tutor. I made an effort to stick with tutors that were on theme for our Helm strategy, particularly those that search for equipment exclusively. In particular, cards like Stoneforge Mystic and Stonehewer Giant offer us a chance to tutor equipment and cheat it into play, giving us a way to get work around Helm's high casting cost. However, if you're looking to up the power level of this deck, the black tutors are a good place to start.
Thank you all for taking the time to read about my Saskia list! This is one of the more challenging decks I've brewed recently, as striking the right balance between synergies with Saskia, Helm, and tokens lead to compromises in each area.
The list I presented was not actually my first draft, however. My first attempt focused on a "go wide" strategy, favoring smaller tokens for overwhelming opponents. While I won't go into detail regarding the choices of the list, I did want to share another design that I do think could use Helm well, and perhaps more efficiently. If the list I've introduced today felt too clunky, I strongly recommend you give the tiny tokens version a chance.
Here is my list:
The Saskia Horde
I hope you all had a fun time exploring Helm of the Host with me. Working on these Saskia decks made me realize that I haven't written about a "tiny tokens" deck yet, and I may have to in the near future.
For the time being, I wish you all the best, and happy brewing!