Underdog's Corner - Isperia, Supreme Judge
Hello everyone, and welcome back to yet another Underdog's Corner! As this past week was Thanksgiving, I would like to say I am thankful for each and every reader that has opened my article, read it, or even left a scathing review. I appreciate all of your feedback, and without you, I wouldn't still be writing for EDHREC. I am thankful for the opportunity to continue to write this series, as we come up on the end of my second year with the site. However, reminiscing can be done at a later time! I have a deadline to make while my body tries to muster the strength to type this article post-holiday-feasting.
For this week, we continue our foray into the roster of Ravnican legendary creatures. For this week, we move to the law-abiding Azorius. In a way, this a memorial. As we move closer to the spoilers and release of Ravnica Allegiance, we know from Assassin's Trophy's art that one legend will not be joining us in the new set... So let's give them a final send-off. Pay your respects to the Azorius' former guildmaster, Isperia, Supreme Judge.
Judging the Numbers
What makes Isperia an Underdog? Let's check the numbers. With total of 233 decks on EDHREC, Isperia's second depiction ranks as the 15th most played commander in the blue-white color identity. This puts her behind the likes of fellow underdogs Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun and Taigam, Ojutai Master. What about her peers? Among the legends released in the Return to Ravnica block, Isperia is the second least played commander among the mythic guildmasters, and she is the 16th least played among the twenty total legends from the block. That's not the best place to be. However, as this is the Underdog's Corner, I think Isperia still has potential.
Like every Guildmaster up until Guilds of Ravnica, Isperia, Supreme Judge comes outfitted with a hefty double-pipped, two-colored mana cost. While some of her contemporaries such as Rakdos, Lord of Riots and Lazav, Dimir Mastermind cost only their colors, Isperia costs an additional two generic mana that brings her converted mana cost up to a total of six. As Azorius contains the two colors that are least known for ramping, this is a serious hurdle. So what do we get for this hefty mana cost?
Looking at the stats, a 6/4 flyer isn't the worst, but I do wish we could just bump her stats to being a 5/5 to dodge spells like Mutilate or Black Sun's Zenith for just a bit longer. Regardless, Isperia is a massive flying threat. However, we don't play commanders for vanilla stats (mostly). So what else does she have?
Whenever a creature attacks you or a planeswalker you control, you may draw a card.
I guess that's the draw. If a 6/4 flyer wasn't a large enough deterrent, this should give us a failsafe from being attacked. However, before I continue, let me clarify. If Isperia is on the field and people are attacking, I think there are one of two outcomes:
- We are very likely to soon be dead
- We are coming out ahead.
With the way I envision this deck playing, giving us "free" draw power is a dangerous gambit for our opponents, and as soon as we untap with Isperia, attacking us becomes even more dangerous.
Fortifications and Battlements
If you didn't think of it immediately, this deck at its heart is a bit of a pillowfort. For those that don't know, a pillowfort deck aims to deter players from attacking us through damage prevention, taxation, and other defensive effects. The most famous among these effects are the twins, Ghostly Prison and Propaganda.
At first glance, these don't seem that bad. Two mana for each creature to attack us is doable for many decks. However, while the simple answer is "pay the tax," that often isn't a clean solution. Until boards are developed and players begin to have a surplus of mana, attacks often aren't profitable enough to warrant paying the tax. There are tons of caveats that can qualify that statement, but I won't bore you with them now. Beyond these two, we actually have a suite of options that can help us build our fort around us.
If we want to go harder on the taxation route, we have a number of creatures at which we can look.
While Windborn Muse is the only creature with the same tax as our above enchantments, Archangel of Tithes and Baird, Steward of Argive still give us a powerful defensive body as well as a tax. I'm not sure how it would play out in practice, but the thought of needing to attack into a defensive creature makes me think that the tax will add up as more attackers are needed. If we want to go harder in the noncreature route, we also have Sphere of Safety to pair with our density of enchantments, and Collective Restraints, which will be a third copy of Propaganda, so to speak.
Next up, we have a category I would describe as 'deterrents.' This is the same category that Isperia would fall into if we labeled her. While these don't "prevent" our opponents from attacking us, they certainly give them a reason not to.
Ever-Watching Threshold has the same effect as our commander, except that it is much weaker, cheaper, and harder to remove. While it may not be the strongest option, 'strength' isn't where this deck is aiming. The next two are the real deterrents, in my opinion. Dissipation Field is a color-shifted No Mercy, a card that appears in 4849 decks. Dissipation Field only appears in 3600 decks, which is a little strange as it is both more widely accessible and in a more defensive color. In essence, both enchantments do the same thing; both remove creatures that damage us. While Dissipation Field's "removal" isn't as permanent, it still buys us plenty of times against non-haste threats. Lastly, we have a card that's more of a meta call than an all-star. Lightmine Field makes combat more annoying than ever, and against decks that go wide, it's a nightmare. I'd probably put this is this deck's metaphorical sideboard, but you'll see it in the decklist at the end of this article.
Lastly, we have a category that is honestly a product of my desire to have three categories more than general uniqueness. They don't necessarily fit into either of the previous, so I decided to give them their own special spot that I'm going to call "limiters."
I've never seen Silent Arbiter in Commander, but I did see it once in a Conspiracy draft. It slowed the game down to a crawl until it was removed. Really, that's what I think this deck wants. We want to be able to reach our endgame in a defensible position, and the Arbiter helps immensely. Crawlspace is acts like a slightly worse Arbiter for the tradeoff that we can block with any of our creatures, and it isn't an asymmetrical effect. I've seen a Najeela deck crop up in my meta recently, and I know this card would help against the early beats.
Crime and Punishment
While all of these defensive measures are good, most of these don't punish our opponents if they have committed to attacking us. Yes, Dissipation Field does, but if that's the case, we might be dead or dying if the Field isn't protecting our actual life total. This is why I mentioned the importance of untapping with Isperia. While the walls should keep our opponents at bay, we want to have a second line of defense ready.
Let's escort the elephant out of the room first: Cyclonic Rift. Moving on.
Both Aetherize and Aetherspouts are brutal ways to punish our opponents for attacking us. While they are one-shot effects, if we need to cast them multiple times in succession, the jig might just be up. Aetherize is powerful and comes at a reasonable cost, but it wasn't until two weeks ago that I remembered Aetherspouts was a card and remembered how backbreaking it can be. I was spectating a pod between games, and I got to witness a massive swarm of artifact creatures that were totally blindsided by this spell. It decimated the player's entire field, and the player who cast it was also able to leverage the Aetherspouts politically at the table. I used to play it myself, and it made me wonder why I had stopped. It's a great wrath in more casual metas, yet only 3408 decks are currently playing it. Why do I say "only"? Because Aetherize is currently in 5214 decks, and I think that discrepancy between these two cards is too high.
Speaking of defensive cards, let's talk about one that is even less played than Aetherspouts. Recently, two of our beautiful and talented EDHRECast hosts sung the praises of this card. Call it the blue Sudden Spoiling: Polymorphist's Jest. While Split Second does make a massive difference in power level, don't get stuck on that. Instead, let's compare the effects.
Both of these effects are instants, have the same converted mana cost, have the same color intensity, remove abilities, and apply power and toughness-changing modifiers. Honestly, they're almost the exact same card, minus the Split Second. This is a devastating card if played in a reactive deck, and I think once you give it a chance, it might hop into a few of your own decks.
Breaking the Law, Breaking the Law
Sometimes, our opponents won't be attacking. The board will be clogged up, there will be multiple defensive decks as the table, or the creatures on the board will be the type that want to avoid combat at all times. While the Azorius do appreciate all of our law-abiding citizens, sometimes we need a little law breaking to keep busy. As I once saw someone say online, "I play red to provide the game with a sense of forward action." While this isn't a deck with red, the whole reason I wanted to write about Isperia is because of that concept.
What better way than to force our opponents to attack? Sure, we'll also be on the receiving end of some attacks, but we should be picking and choosing when to deploy this strategy as well as having our defenses ready. Dulcet Sirens can lure an unsuspecting utility creature or commander to their doom, or Bident of Thassa can command an entire board into combat. Obviously there are risks, but what is a game without a modicum of risk-taking?
Lastly, we have a card that is only available through the 2018 Gift Pack (or, you know, by buying singles.) Angler Turtle is an asymmetrical version of Thantis, the Warweaver with both Hexproof and a massive frame to protect itself.
That's all I have for this installment. Isperia, Supreme Judge may not be the most unique wrinkle that pillowfort decks have ever seen, but I still think she is a powerful piece to support this strategy if we're willing to include pieces that play to her strengths. Below is a rough outline of a deck for this concept, and I hope you can use it to start your own twist on this commander.
Old Laws, New Interpretations
Thanks so much for reading, and I hope you join me next time in the Underdog's Corner!