These Cards Do WORK! - Gaddock Teeg
(Gaddock Teeg | Art by Greg Staples)
New Year, New Mindset
Hi there! I’m Jeremy Rowe, AKA J Ro, the Unsummoned Skull, a former Judge, Tournament Organizer, and Pro Tour competitor. I’m also a current teacher, college professor, streamer, community leader, and content creator. In this series, we examine the big EDH questions: What makes a card good? What’s the difference between popularity and synergy? What even is that synergy thing anyways? My intention is to differentiate between high- and low-synergy cards, describe in what ways the cards work with the commander, and explain why high synergy is such a good thing. For a deck to be powerful and consistent, each card needs to do a job, and these cards do WORK!
For our sixth article, we're taking a look at a surprising commander, especially for those who know me. If there is one commander that represents the antithesis of what I love about Magic, this one's it. I am a spellslinger player at heart, loving big, splashy noncreature spells, which this commander doesn’t allow. Instead, he advises the table to use old-school beatdown techniques and earn wins the hard way: it’s the polarizing hatebear Gaddock Teeg!
Gaddock Teeg is a commander that's representative of a group of cards referred to as “hatebears”. Hatebears are a classification of cards defined by having a mana value, power, and toughness of 2, like Grizzly Bears, but with an ability or two stapled on that limits what opponents, or players in general, can do. This ability is referred to as a “static ability”, as opposed to an ability requiring a cost and delineated by a colon, or “activated ability”, or an ability that includes a word such as “if”, “when”, or “whenever”, otherwise known as a “triggered ability”. In particular, Gaddock prevents the casting of spells with mana value 4 or greater, as well as those with X in the cost.
Considering I have an Earthquake tribal deck and a Rosheen Meanderer deck, Gaddock has long been one of my least favorite cards, but we’re getting ready for a New Year and a new start, so it seems like a great opportunity to give the little guy a chance and see what he can do. Whether I like him or not, he has a right to exist, and I need to learn to be more open-minded about him!
It is my belief that all Commander decks are midrange decks, needing the same jobs done in order to switch cleanly between offense and defense, as well as to combat a variety of threats from around the table. Gaddock Teeg is a special commander, so let’s find the right tools for these jobs!
Most decks need ramp to play high-impact spells at a time when they are still relevant. It might seem unnecessary because the commander has a low mana value and encourages playing cheap non-creatures, but the deck can still run large creatures, and players (like me) who build decks that are vulnerable to his static abilities will send every bit of removal his way. Factor in that he dies to unconventional board wipes, such as Pyroclasm, and he’ll probably have to be re-cast several times. Thankfully, his ability is just as relevant late as early, so it’s always good to have him around.
For each job, I'd like to highlight a low-synergy-score card, a high-synergy-score card, and an underrated card for this commander to add more context to the qualitative data and see how each one magnifies the abilities, accentuates the strengths, and mitigates the weaknesses of our commander.
Cultivate is one of the most popular and frequently printed green cards in Commander, which searches for two basic lands and puts one to hand and one on the battlefield tapped. At a mana value of 3, it gets just under Gaddock’s requirement, meaning that it's perfectly playable. On Gaddock Teeg's EDHREC page, you'll see that Cultivate has a low synergy score (-4%), but that doesn't mean it's a bad card here. Synergy scores on EDHREC are a form of uniqueness calculation (45% of Gaddock Teeg decks play Cultivate, and 49% of all other Selesnya decks also play Cultivate, so the difference = -4%).
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben might not seem like a ramp spell, as it doesn’t increase the deck’s mana production, but her static ability makes noncreature spells cost more. This will impact opponents, who did not build around difficulties with casting noncreature spells, more than it impacts the caster, who did build around that difficulty. This can slow opponents down enough for our own plan to go into effect while they’re still struggling to cast spells! It's a cheap, aggressive creature that furthers the beatdown gameplan. It's also a 2-power creature with first strike, which simulates the hatebear status of being a 2/2 because the opposing creature still needs to be able to survive to deal damage to her. In addition, 56% more Gaddock decks play her than other Selesnya commanders!
Augur of Autumn has a synergy score of 22% for Gaddock Teeg, which signals to us that it's a little bit more unique to our wise, wrinkled friend than to other Selesnya commanders. It provides access to extra information in addition to playing lands from an unusual location, enabling more active draws. It also can allow creature spells to be cast from the top of the library if the Coven condition is met, although sadly it has the same power as Gaddock, so additional creatures will be required to reach that point. Still, it bridges the early mana development and mid-game board development, enabling the deck to play fair without losing tempo.
In addition to being able to cast spells on time (or early enough in the game to still be relevant), decks need removal to be able to deal with the threats opposing decks present, as well as to be able to protect their own threats from opposing removal. In Gaddock’s case, spot removal needs to be cheap and flexible, as well as to leave behind a creature to attack, or at least an opening.
Swords to Plowshares is an efficient spot removal spell, and one that is virtually synonymous with white in Commander. It targets a creature and exiles it, which usually ends any shenanigans the creature would cause and prevents it from coming back. It bypasses death triggers and leaves the opponent a little extra life, but not more than they’ll lose in combat next turn. It's got a 17% synergy score on Gaddock’s EDHREC page, because other Selesnya decks play it at a slightly lower rate, but slightly lower than 75% is still more than half of all Selesnya decks. Gaddock probably runs it at a higher rate because it enables attacks and doesn’t advance the opponent’s gameplan, unlike Path to Exile, which is only played in 58% of Gaddock decks and 38% of all Selesnya decks.
Mother of Runes, meanwhile, has a synergy score of 50% for our ambitious advisor, meaning it's used more with him than with other Selesnya commanders. It can sneak a creature past blockers, create an indestructible defensive creature, or just be an anti-removal piece on board. Although its ability is an activated one, it can be activated at instant speed, daring the table to try any funny business. She and Gaddock make the perfect power couple!
Manglehorn is an underrated option, played in only 32% of Gaddock decks and only 4% of other Selesnya decks. It’s very similar to Reclamation Sage, which is a bit less unique to Gaddock, in that it’s a 1-for-1 removal spell attached to a 2-power body. It is a little more specific in what it destroys, but, like Gaddock, it imposes a rule on opponents via its static ability, which makes artifacts enter tapped. In an era with copious Treasure, Blood tokens, and Clues entering the battlefield, each of which require tapping, it slows down the advantage engine and allows Gaddock to buy time to deal with them.
Most decks need plans for what to do if things get out of hand, and Gaddock Teeg is no different. Gaddock is a deck that is largely permanent-based, especially with creatures on the upper end, as that’s all he allows, so those big beaters need protection, as do the small rule-setters. As a result, the mass removal needs to invalidate defensive boards and enable attacks for as many turns as possible, buying time for larger plays to seal off the game.
Authority of the Consuls is an unconventional card to be considered mass removal, but it slows down decks considerably, to the extent that it’s like every creature opponents play is delayed one full turn. This is particularly important for a deck looking to beat down with creatures, as the creatures enemies make can’t block the turn they're cast, even if they’re flashed in on other players’ turns. The lifegain also creates a buffer that can help swing damage races. If turn 1 Sol Ring is the best start for mana development, this is the best counter!
Selfless Spirit, meanwhile, has a synergy score of 31%, as it's an excellent way to protect our army of small creatures while also being a decent flying threat on its own. The ability to protect our board from board wipes allows us to essentially use opponents’ board wipes as our own. These sorts of major swings in momentum allow us to maintain control of the board via static abilities while still beating down on underdeveloped boards that were affected by the board wipe. This is why it is so integral that the board wipes be selected carefully to avoid weakening the player’s own board!
Flawless Maneuver is a stealthy way to trick the board. In a deck that is permanent-based, catching the table with instants and flash spells is an excellent way to bait them into making poor decisions, whether blocking, attempting to wipe the board, or trying to swing into your seemingly small board. Unlike the Spirit, the Maneuver doesn’t sit on the board, telling the table it can happen. It doesn’t even cost mana. It does require the commander to be out, but at 2 mana, that was going to happen anyways.
Every deck needs card draw, selection, tutoring, or advantage, to help find the pieces it needs to transition between the phases of the game. There are always going to be spells that are better early than late, or better from ahead, or better from behind. Gaddock Teeg is a cheap commander, mana-wise, but he also doesn’t actually do anything by himself besides prevent certain cards from being played. Most of the time he just stands there, looking menacing. In other words, we need other advantages, since our commander doesn't provide much in the way of forward momentum.
Beast Whisperer is an excellent repeatable draw engine, drawing cards on each cast of a creature spell, even if the creatures get countered. As a creature, it avoids the Gaddock ban on noncreature spells with a mana value of 4+, and it works excellently in conjunction with Congregation at Dawn (more below) and Augur of Autumn to set up some powerful draw engines!
Mangara, the Diplomat shows up with a 29% synergy score on Gaddock’s EDHREC page. It's only played in 5% of non-Gaddock Selesnya decks, making it fairly unique to the little guy. Speaking on Gaddock’s behalf, the advisor’s associate in government is a bit more politically inclined. Rather than saying "no" to players attacking us or greedily casting multiple spells per turn, our friend at court just wants to skim a bit of the action, in the form of a card. Sometimes, Gideon Jura might even welcome the attention!
Congregation at Dawn doesn’t draw cards, per se, but it does stack the top of the deck so the next few turns consist of drawing impactful creatures that do the jobs the deck needs. It works really well in concert with Augur of Autumn, another underused card, to enable those stacked cards to have immediate impact!
The last major job that most decks need is a way to actually close out the game. Ramping allows you to play spells out, but can be dead draws late game. Removing threats works for a while, but with three opponents, someone’s going to stick something, and games can either stall out or develop into arms races. Card draw helps, but what are you looking to actually draw? The answer is... win conditions!
One of the biggest criticisms of decks designed around restricting opponents and setting rules is that they're not often proactively ending the game, so they stretch games along unnecessarily. In order to sign off on a deck like this, I need it to be going somewhere, using the restrictions and rules to help buy time to draw into a spell or synergy capable of ending the game!
Shalai, Voice of Plenty is a massive tempo swing, protecting our board from direct interaction and loading up the counters on all of our creatures, including herself! If that wasn’t enough, she’s also a giant feathery protector, capable of smashing down for damage in the air!
Archon of Valor’s Reach is a large creature with several relevant keywords. It flies, it tramples over what few blockers would be foolish enough to stand in its way, and it's able to play defensively and offensively with vigilance! Plus it can shut off a type of interaction for the table; naming "instant" seems particularly powerful, as it prevents plays in combat (barring any Flash shenanigans).
Shield of the Oversoul is a massively underrated card from a powerful cycle in Shadowmoor and Eventide. The Avatar’s Auras add power and toughness for each color in common with it, which are both in Gaddock’s identity as a creature with both green and white pips in his cost. As a result, our commander grows from a lowly bear to a 4/4 with flying and indestructible, protecting him and enabling even more massive flying beats, this time with commander damage!
Hatebears? Why? What Have They Ever Done To You?
Let's round it out with a sample Gaddock decklist! We're focusing on doing the jobs a deck needs to function, in a way that capitalizes on the commander’s unique characteristics. With the New Year now here, I’d like to share a version of a commander that I usually despise, but, in the spirit of the holiday, I am instead embracing. It does no good to bring negative feelings into the New Year, so this is me leaving my negativity behind, where it belongs!
No Longer Bearing Hate!
Hopefully, this guide helps you to evaluate cards and use the data at hand! Results may vary, as playgroups, deck choices, and the luck of the draw can impact how games go.
Which cards overperformed for you? Which cards were overrated? Join me next time as we explore which cards are dead weight, and which cards do WORK!