These Cards Do WORK! - Strefan, Maurer Progenitor
( Chris Rallis)| Art by
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Hi there! I’m Jeremy Rowe, AKA J Ro, the Unsummoned Skull, a former Judge, Tournament Organizer, and Pro Tour competitor. I'm also currently a 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 the ways those 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 this article, we're taking a look at a truly fang-tastic partygoer at the wedding of the century.
is hungry for blood - specifically, the blood of opponents. As opponents lose life, Strefan takes note. Then, at the end of the turn, he rewards you in a rain of Blood tokens for each opponent who lost life during your turn.
Since the set is new, is not yet a well-known commander, but folks are certainly looking into the tricks this nobleman is up to. The name 'Progenitor' implies there are more pointy-toothed purloiners perched to crash the party, and Strefan doesn’t disappoint. The Blood tokens are excellent at filtering, and dropping big Vampires in combat creates huge swings in momentum. However, how do you tie those phases of the game together?
To investigate (not the mechanic, although Clues are similar to Blood tokens!), we’ll examine how Strefan does all the jobs a deck needs to do, but in his own way, unique from how other black and red decks function. 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. This is especially true in the era of rapid power creep, and even more pertinent when your commander costs four mana and doesn’t provide immediate advantage by himself.
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.
All of these cards ramp early, enable larger creatures to come in ahead of schedule, and provide some additional value.
can provide mana the turn it is cast, but it does not fix the colors unless you are willing to take damage. On 's EDHREC page, you'll see that has a low synergy score (14%), but that doesn't mean it's a bad card here. Synergy scores on EDHREC are a form of uniqueness calculation (60% of decks play , and 46% of all other Rakdos decks also play , so the difference = 14%). This card isn't unique to Strefan, but it's still splendid in his deck.
, by contrast, has a synergy score of 33% on EDHREC, which signals to us that it's a little bit more unique to our bloodsucking friend than to other Rakdos commanders. The “each player loses 1 life” clause makes the life we lose a lot more palatable because the pain is shared and it ensures blood will be spilled. Our commander wants to draw the pain out over several turns, and this is a great way to ensure enemy wounds stay open. Plus, if each player’s life is low, it can turn into a nasty flying deathtouch creature that burns opponents when it crashes in.
is an underrated "mana rock" that provides another great boost. A quarter of Strefan decks play it, but I think that's too low. Unlike the other mana rocks, doesn’t provide mana, but it does provide a static discount to all black creature spells (including Strefan!), and we were already going to play big beefy boys! This card should not be overlooked, especially if you find yourself having difficulty triggering Strefan's life loss effect, which enables the Blood rummaging and Vampire-cheating engines. Sometimes, the solution is to hide those effects inside of cards that are doing other jobs!
In addition to ramping so we can cast spells on time (or early enough in the game to still be relevant), decks need removal to deal with the threats that opposing decks present, as well as to be able to protect their own threats from opposing removal.
is excellent at answering artifacts, creatures, and planeswalkers, all of which are important to a deck that wins with creatures and wants to be able to swing in profitably. Remember, Strefan needs to attack to drop big Vampires into play, so a clear field is key. has a +1% synergy score on Strefan's EDHREC page because other Rakdos decks play it at about the same rate. Strefan can probably answer some of those same threats in different ways, but direct attacks result in life loss and more Blood tokens, so we love the here.
, meanwhile, has a synergy score of 27% for our levitating friend. It can permanently steal a creature and turn it into a Vampire, which makes it more aggressive than , and it also synergizes with the commander by providing an extra attacker on subsequent turns. It requires a Vampire to be in play, but the tapping occurs from an outside effect, so the creature we tap can still be summoning sick. Requiring a Vampire is certainly the reason that fewer other Rakdos decks make use of it, but here, we're happy to pay that cost so that we can continue attacking.
is an underrated option, played in only 9% of Strefan decks. Like the others, it answers a creature, but the creature needs to be small, and you don’t get an offensive benefit from it. While the targeting may be less flexible, I think the modal nature offsets that cost. Its Aftermath mode is a worse , but it functions well if you have mana to spare or just want to trigger 's Blood-creating ability. Aggressive decks can sometimes get stuck in board stalls, so this can provide a surprising burst of damage out of nowhere! As a result, is never a bad draw, and is another example of hiding a job (win condition) within another job (spot removal)! You might even find yourself picking off a random creature just to get right to the Aftermath!
Most decks need plans for what to do if things get out of hand, and is no different. However, as a deck that's looking to bash in with large creatures for most of the damage, you don’t need too many of these effects.
is a slightly deceptive card: it looks like a strong, efficient removal spell, which can be followed up by adding to the board first when the plague rain settles. cares about the amount of life you pay, which can enable you to sweep away small creatures while ignoring the large ones that had been cheated into play through Strefan. This is a famous card, so it won't have a high synergy score for Strefan specifically, but a card doesn't need extra synergy to warrant play. Besides, it's pretty nice that the removal can be controlled so that the offense can continue.
is a flexible board wipe, in terms of timing. It gives you a couple of ways to use spare mana: wipe the board of small, non-Vampire creatures, and make a Blood token you can use to rummage. Putting the two parts together allows you to open the door and find something to do. It can even be activated in combat to swing the math in your favor!
is our underrated mass removal pick. It's easy to trigger Madness when you have spare Blood tokens lying around, and the damage can go to players as well, which would also trigger the bloodletting! It can even provide a burst of direct damage, much like !
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. is unique in that he has a built-in way to filter through cards. This does rely on opponents losing life, but damaging multiple opponents simultaneously will enable the tokens to build up, allowing Strefan to sculpt his hand!
is a popular red spell, quickly becoming a new red staple, and one I’m glad I speculated on. That's actually why, at the time of writing, it has a negative synergy score on Strefan's page: other Rakdos decks tend to play this card more often than plays this card. provides a burst of mana and card advantage, at instant speed, at the cost of a card. If that card happens to have Madness, that isn’t much of a cost at all!
doesn’t draw a burst of cards, but it does put you up a card in hand, and it is a Vampire, so it can be dropped into play by Strefan, even if that is somewhat sub-optimal, despite its high synergy score (14%).
is a effect that triggers on your upkeep, drawing everyone an extra card. Since it only triggers on your turn, you get to use the card before everyone else. In a deck with a lot of rummaging, it’s important to increase the number of cards we have in hand, and this is a great way to do it, one that also happens to cost each player a life, meaning it's yet another way to make the blood flow!
The last major job that most decks need is a way to actually close out the game. Ramping allows you to play spells out sooner, but it 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! In a deck where the commander cheats big Vampires into play, we need some solid targets!
seems like a solid fit at first glance, and 21% of Strefan players are currently using it. Seer is a powerful Vampire, perhaps the most ubiquitous Vampire in Commander, as a well-known staple in Aristocrats strategies that helps the multitude of effects do their dirty work. So far this card is more prevalent in Strefan than other Rakdos decks, but I bring it up here as an example of a high-synergy card we don't actually want to play. While Seer can help draw additional value from creatures that would otherwise die, it’s not a good creature for Strefan to cheat into play, nor is this a deck that can reasonably reanimate the sacrificed creatures, at least not without bending the entire deck around reanimation. 'Seer' ya later, Seer.
is undoubtedly the Vampire we came to see. If Strefan is a guest at the wedding of the century, the Bloodwitch is his plus one. Or should I say, his plus 72? Very few other Rakdos decks run her, due to the Vampiric requirements: she causes each opponent to lose life equal to the number of Vampires you control, and you gain that much life, which is just a huge swing. Even if you don’t have many Vampires out, a 4/4 with flying and protection from white that also triggers the commander's Blood ability is plenty!
, our last card of note, is a creature that, while not truly underrated (currently in 69% of Strefan decks), is much better in a dedicated Vampire deck capable of using the 5/4 flying body and circumventing the high mana value. It is also played in Aristocrats decks as a cheaper (money-wise) version of . Oldie but a goodie!
Open the Bloodgates!
Let's round it out with a sample Strefan decklist! We're focusing on doing the jobs a deck needs to function, in a way that capitalizes on the commander’s unique characteristics.
Type A Personality
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!