These Cards Do WORK! - Yarok the Desecrated
Yeah, These Cards Rock!
Sultai is a color combination chock full of value, providing solid advantage that form the building blocks of a good deck! It was initially a tough color combination for me to build, however, as I tend to enjoy decks built around an archetype or theme. The power is certainly there, and the cards work well together and work well with the commanders, but it always felt like there was something more that could be unlocked by breaking apart the building blocks of the deck and putting them together in a way that functioned more cohesively.
Sure, drawing four cards off of by Evoking it once from hand and then again with is awesome, but what if it was Evoked with in play? Then throw in for some REAL fun! The elements of a deck are present in these chains of interactions!
These thoughts gave me inspiration, intrigue, and… energy! What happens when we combine an incredibly powerful commander with one of the most busted mechanics in Pro Tour history? Read on and find out!
Yarok is essentially on a creature, doubling enters-the-battlefield effects, regardless of whether those effects are internal, like , or external, like Landfall on cards like . By doubling the effects triggered by game actions we're going to take anyways, we accumulate advantage. Building inherent advantages and triggers into the jobs we're already doing can create a value train big enough, strong enough, and with enough forward-moving momentum, to bowl over any opponent. Furthermore, building off of specific triggers and related abilities can add to the synergy and create a sense of cohesion that makes the deck not just powerful, but something special!
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. 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. 3+ color decks don’t just need to increase mana, they need to fix their colors in order to meet the intense color requirements. For our commander, we’ll be looking for cards that have either internal or external triggers that our commander can double. While these cards are plenty playable without Yarok, they get much better with our commander out.
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.
, also known as Jens Thoren, the invitational winner depicted in the initial version, or Sad Robot, after synonyms for the parts of its name, is a popular ramp spell in many decks in every color combination, including colorless. Despite its universality (it shows up in 18% of non-Yarok Sultai decks) it is decidedly better in Yarok decks, as almost half of all Yarok decks are looking to double the enters-the-battlefield effect.
is a new addition from Streets of New Capenna, which has the same enters-the-battlefield ability as the Simulacrum, but it costs one less mana, has two green pips, is a larger creature, has vigilance, and requires more than six lands to attack. While there’s a lot to unpack there, it's rarely being experimented with in Sultai decks outside of Yarok builds, where it synergizes with Landfall cards, but is mediocre on its own.
is where we get into the good stuff. Unlike the Simulacrum and the Stomper, it doesn’t put us up on mana, but it does find our colors early and often. The ability to get any color of mana we need to cast our spells, including our ambitiously-costed commander, provide energy for later spells, and ensure we hit our land drops makes Attune an invaluable setup piece. Ramp doesn’t need to draw cards like Solemn, or to be a threat like Stomper - it needs to set the table for our later spells, which Attune does perfectly. It’s not nearly as powerful as it was in Standard, where it was banned, but the vestiges of that power remain, and they provide a powerful base strategy.
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. With Yarok, we’re looking for ways to catch opponents off guard by generating advantage beyond removing a single target or by interacting with different timing or in a different place than what opponents might expect.
is a gem from Ixalan that is a distinct improvement on the classic frame, which synergizes excellently with our commander. When the Chupacabra enters the battlefield, it kills a creature. With Yarok out, it can destroy two creatures while still leaving behind a body! This kind of value is what makes Sultai such a deadly color combination.
is another classic, with a similar ability to the Chupacabra, but with some very strong upsides. For starters, the body it leaves behind has evasion, making it both removal and a threat. Furthermore, it has Evoke, so we can cast it for a reduced cost, and, since it still enters the battlefield before dying, it will still hit two targets. Finally, it's an Elemental, like Yarok, so it has tribal synergies. All of these combined mean it should see more play than 41% of Yarok decks. Still, it uses the cards in the shell, but doesn’t actually add anything to the strategy.
might not provide the body that the Chupacabra and Shriekmaw do, but it more than makes up for it by being more versatile removal, coming down earlier and adding energy for other spells. Chupacabra costs four, has two black pips, and competes with our commander to come down on-curve. Shriekmaw costs five mana to leave the evasive body, costs three mana to do at sorcery speed what does for two, and is better with a dedicated build. costs two mana, so it comes out early enough to keep the board clear for our commander to take over. It also can destroy indestructible creatures by lowering their toughness. Furthermore, it provides the energy advantage needed to get full value out of other cards, even if there isn’t anything worth killing!
Most decks need plans for what to do if things get out of hand, and is no different. Because Yarok wants to dominate the board, we want our mass removal to hit opponents’ cards while ignoring our own. We need these cards to be as devastating as possible, as they are key to reestablishing the board and creating the opportunities we need to build advantage.
is a powerful combination of a board wipe and a win con, shrinking each opponent's creature when it enters the battlefield, and then causing opponents to lose two life per creature destroyed then or any time thereafter! The heavy black cost does preclude its usage in three-color decks, hence why it is only in about 6% of non-Yarok Sultai decks, but Yarok does work well with this objectively powerful card.
is a new card that has been making waves in Yarok decks, as it's another big-time sweeper with a body. When the Druid enters the battlefield, each player, beginning with us, may choose a nonland permanent not controlled by us and blow it up. It is important to note that the card specifically states “choose” and not “target”, which means shroud, protection, and hexproof don’t stop it. Now, even if our opponents aren’t being cooperative, Yarok doubles the ability, so we’re always blowing up at least two things! This is a really cool addition, but it doesn’t necessarily advance us, it just sets our opponents behind.
is a house. Seriously. Even non-energy decks should consider running it. Heck, even non-Yarok decks should consider it! For the same mana cost as the Wurm, you get the same enters-the-battlefield effect, which is just as effective as it is with the Wurm, perhaps even more so. Unlike the paltry two life per creature, the Demon grants us an energy for each creature that dies. For three mana and four energy, we can reanimate a creature card from any graveyard. The body provided is a 5/5 flying creature, meaning the Demon is a board wipe, an energy source, a card advantage engine, and a massive threat! Not bad for six mana!
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. Since our deck is designed to leverage small advantages into a landslide, we want cards that replace themselves without our commander and provide large swings with our commander.
is a classic example of a creature that provides value and works well in an engine. It can either ramp or draw a card, and with our commander out, it’s twice as nice. Oracle does a pretty good imitation of , albeit without the Elemental synergies. Certainly powerful, nice, and cheap, both in mana and money, but not quite as synergistic as it could be. There’s a reason 20% of Sultai decks also play it.
is a small creature that replaces itself. It 's already good enough in an aggressive deck, as it provides a body to be pumped by effects as well as a card. Our deck, though, is not particularly aggressive. Again, it works well with Yarok, but it doesn’t contribute to game-ending situations and is mediocre without our commander.
, like the Oracle and the Visionary, draws a card on entering the battlefield, which can be copied with our commander. Unlike the other two analogs, it leaves a beefy 3/2 body, as well as providing energy to fuel core synergies. The body is enough to pressure opponents or block profitably in addition to the value it generates from entering the battlefield, making this a potent card for our deck. Like , it was powerful enough to get banned when it was in Standard, and that translates well to a dedicated deck!
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! Decks based on value have a reputation for spinning wheels and making opponents sit through long turns. Gaining card advantage is awesome, but, at some point, the corner needs to be turned into ending the game.
is a solid win con in any Sultai deck, as it steals the best creature on the board, doesn’t let it go, and can draw cards if we steal more. It can even steal another creature if our commander is out. Since we aren’t really stealing things, the draw won’t likely factor in, although theft would be a neat Yarok theme.
is a staple win con in mono-black and black-heavy decks. With our commander, though, we don’t even have to be heavy black for ol’ Gary to be a massive beating. Yarok players could totally build a more dedicated Devotion deck to make this effect even more impactful if they wanted to!
is an amazing Landfall card, adding an energy each time a land enters the battlefield under our control. Since lands are permanent cards, our commander doubles the enters-the-battlefield effect, making double the energy! The energy then gets funneled into the Architect’s second ability, making big beasty boys! The best part is, since we've been generating energy all game, bit by bit in every card and interaction, we don’t even have to wait to make a huge board!
It Doesn’t Move, But it Runs Well!
Let's round it out with a sample Yarok decklist! We're focusing on doing the jobs a deck needs to function in a way that capitalizes on the commander’s unique characteristics. Energy was an awesome mechanic from Kaladesh that was tied to enters-the-battlefield abilities on many permanents. As such, they provide an interesting synergistic relationship with Yarok! It’s time to get energized!
Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
The Value Keeps Going… and Going…
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer
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!