Underdog's Corner - Kwende, Pride of Femeref

(Kwende, Pride of Femeref | Art by Daarken)

Dominaria Returns! ...Sorta

Hello everyone, and welcome back to another installment of the Underdog's Corner! Here we highlight the legendary creatures who haven't gotten enough love from the player base at large. I've been looking through previous sets, scouring EDHREC pages, and digging through the data for a new legend to bring to the ring. This week, while we wait for those juicy Modern Horizons numbers to roll in, we're going back to Dominaria.

If you're a newer player to EDH, Dominaria produced nearly 5% of currently existing legendary creatures that are legal in Commander. I've described a phenomenon in the past where each set has a finite amount of "creative capitol" that players are willing to spend. Normally this isn't an issue, since sets usually have few legendary creatures, so creative players flock to them. However, when there are 46 legends in a single set, as with Dominaria, players just don't have enough creative capitol to spend on all of those potential commanders, which means some great legends get left behind. For this week, I'm bringing you a mono-white legend who I think is more powerful than his text leads on.

Kwende, Pride of Femeref

Kwende has about as simple of an effect as a commander can possess: all of our creatures with first strike now have double strike. Very simple. However, "simple" doesn't preclude "powerful." Dean Gootee has been a big advocate for the underrated power of vigilance in Commander, and I'm going to be an advocate for the power of first and double strike.

Combat often gets a bad reputation in Commander, and it isn't difficult to understand why. The typical criticism points out that dealing a total of 120 damage to your three opponents is incredibly difficult. Some will resort instead to non-combative methods of victory, such as combos, to secure the game instead.

With that said, you know what also makes things difficult? First strike. Who does it make things difficult for? Your opponent. They're either forced to over-commit blockers to deal with one of your annoying creatures, or else just chump block. Or, in the event they attempt to attack you with a big creature, you can just multi-block that creature with some first strikers, who will take it down before it gets the chance to hurt you. This gets exacerbated when first strike becomes double strike.

So if we're in mono-white and we like abusing combat keywords, why pick Kwende over Odric, Lunarch Marshal?

In a vacuum, Kwende will give the majority of our deck double strike. Odric can give everyone double strike, as well as any other evergreen keyword on creatures we control. So why Kwende? Well, I think he provides a slightly more focused build.

Looking through Odric's EDHREC page, we see him at the helm of an archetype often labeled as "keyword soup," which looks to amass as many potential keywords as possible across our creatures. Among his top three Signature Cards, there are seven different keywords. If we keep scrolling down his page, that remains a common theme. Without Odric, there isn't much to bind the deck together. There's a smattering of Human tribal and an Equipment subtheme, but he's very scattered. If Odric's removed from the field, the board falls into a lot of disparate directions.

This is where I think Kwende sets himself apart. Kwende is an enabler in the command zone, like Odric. On the board, we will have a great deal of double strike to pump our army up. Even without him, though, we'll still have an army with first strike, and thus a more unified vision. We can push our subthemes to stretch the power of that keyword in combat.

Strike First and True

According to Scryfall, there are currently 211 cards with a white color identity that have first strike, 158 of which are creatures. We actually have a deep pool of cards to work with, but we'll need to filter out the chaff. Luckily for us, the EDHREC filter helps us do that easily.

These form a core of white staples that are just "good" cards. Thalia, Heretic Cathar will slow down our opponents and be a general nuisance. For a deck that will want to swing at opponents quite often, postponing land drops and creatures even a turn can work greatly in our favor. Speaking of land drops, Knight of the White Orchid is a first striker that also ramps us. That's good enough for me. Thalia's Lancers will let us tutor any legendary permanent while also being a 4/4 first striker. I won't lie, in mono-white it'll be hard not to immediately grab Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite to make combat literally impossible for our opponents.

I know it shows up in 68% of Kwende decks, but I think we actually don't want many effects like Archetype of Courage. Removing enemy first strike won't come up very often, and most of our cards should naturally have first strike already, which makes the Archetype redundant. Only a few regular strikers will be included just for the raw power of their other abilities.

Since we want to attack opponents, we need ways to defend ourselves from the crack back. Luckily, white is amazing at giving our team vigilance.

It might be a bit cheeky to put Akroma's Memorial under the banner of "vigilance anthem," but it still is one. One of the strongest global team buffs in EDH, Akroma's Memorial turns our creatures into absolute monsters in combat. It also lets them dodge damage-based Wraths from red's side of the color pie, like Blasphemous Act. This is a strong choice, but yes, it's more of a finisher than a defensive play.

Brave the Sands, Heliod, God of the Sun, and Always Watching offer other variations along the same theme. Always Watching is an anthem effect, Heliod, God of the Sun is resilient and can produce tokens in a pinch, and Brave the Sands lets us block an additional creature each combat. Not only do we get to leave blockers up, but a wall of first strikers will be nearly impossible for our enemies to run straight into.

Speaking of which, let's look at Unbreakable Formation. While its not Teferi's Protection, it's still a powerful effect. For three mana, we can either reactively protect our board or launch a crippling alpha strike. Blocking with first strikers is hard enough for our enemies, but indestructibility turns the blocking math into genuine damage control.

Hit Them With Your Best Shot

Swinging with first strikers is all well and good, but that advantage is directly proportional to the power of our creatures. A 4/4 Beast will be able to block a 3/3 Soldier with first strike all day. White typically leans towards smaller creatures, and first strike often finds itself on smaller creatures as well. For example, roughly only 15% of white creatures with first strike have a power greater than 3. Some extra 'oomph' is needed.

As it happens, there's another Dominarian legend I'd like to call out in Kwende's army, and that's Danitha, Capashen Paragon. She's not only a paragon for her name, but also represents the archetype that first and double strike encourage us to build around: Equipment. Equipment are already a powerful boon to white decks, but Danitha reminds us what a great combination those keywords can be when paired with artifacts that buff our creatures and apply on-hit damage triggers.

If we're looking to maximize this strategy, we want the most cost-efficient stat bumps we can get. I'm especially going to lean toward the crazy fun choices. Bloodforged Battle-Axe is one of the coolest Equipment in the game in terms of uniqueness and application. With a +2/+0 boost and cheap stats, this weapon can provide a steady stream of yet more weapons. When I've seen it played, it usually preys on the opponent with the weakest board state to make tons of Equipment. When you combine it with double strike, it gets as silly as you would expect. Turning every creature we have into axe-swinging murderers is certainly fun.

Coming in with 1,200 decks is Crown of Doom. While it technically costs five total mana to use the same turn we cast it, I think that's a small price to pay for this type of chaotic effect. The Crown forces our opponents into a game of Hot Potato as whoever is holding the Crown is a prime target to attack. +2/+0 is a powerful boost to a board of double-striking attackers. Any Gahiji, Honored One player can tell you not to underrate that power boost.

Lastly we have one of the most underrated and underplayed Equipment in the game, seen in only 802 decks. Kusari-Gama is a menace of a card that often reads "Equipped creature can't be blocked." If your opponent does dare to block, they risk their entire board getting swept away! I don't expect many board states with opponents that would be willing to take that on the chin. (For decks outside of mono-white, take note that Kusari-Gama does not specify combat damage; the equipped creature just has to deal any damage to a blocking creature. While that might seem corner-case, red has plenty of ways to abuse that ability at instant speed.)

With a focus on Equipment, we're going to want to support that small theme. Sigarda's Aid is a slam-dunk pick. Flash and auto-equipping? Sold. Stonehewer Giant is the often-overlooked cousin to Stoneforge Mystic, but searching for a Equipment, putting it into play, and attaching it for free? That will be invaluable. Tutoring for Blackblade Reforged or Hammer of Nazahn is truly a power play.

Lastly, while not conventionally synergistic with Equipment, we have Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle. Teshar got a lot of buzz when they were released, but I've not seen as much discussion since with them appearing in just over 700 decks. White relies heavily on artifacts, and in an archetype that requires potentially losing creatures in combat, we're going to need a way to recoup our losses. Other recursion creatures like Sun Titan or Bishop of Rebirth will also be important for this reason.

A Pride Like No Other

While Kwende remains a fairly simple commander, I think there are a lot of lessons that we can learn from him. Often it's very easy to make a pile of simply good cards and throw it together. Kwende's straightforward approach gives us the opportunity to do a bit more digging. He forces us to ask questions about how to best leverage his ability, what effects are best to maximize a combat keyword, and how to recover from expected losses. While we don't get to play a very broad strategy, we get to go deep on that singular focus. I think these are lessons that can be applied to any and all commander decks. Check out a prototype Kwende list below!

”A Pride Like No Other”

View on Archidekt

Commander (1)
Creature (27)
Artifact (17)
Instant (4)
Enchantment (9)
Sorcery (2)
Planeswalker (3)
Land (37)

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I hope you enjoyed this article! If you have any suggestions for future installments of this series, let me know in the comments below or on Twitter! Once again, thanks for joining me in the Underdog's Corner.

Mason is an EDH player from Georgia, who is a self-proclaimed Johnny and Vorthos. His MTG career started with a casual lifegain deck with only a single win-condition. When not consuming MTG, he spends his time being a full-time student, an avid sports fan, and a dabbling musician. Mason can be found on twitter @K_Mason64