Underdog's Corner - Reyhan, Last of the Abzan

(Death's Presence | Art by Ryan Barger)

Vacation Miles

Hello, everyone! Welcome to another edition of the Underdog's Corner! If you have never joined me before, let me extend a gracious welcome to you. This series is all about shining a light on underplayed and underestimated commanders. I'm here to show you playstyles and cards that can help you get the most out of those plucky legendary creatures! For this installment, I'm doing something that's a little strange and fairly frowned upon by many online communities. To do so, I'll be covering one of my favorite legends in the game: Reyhan, Last of the Abzan.

All By Myself

Yes, you're reading this right. I'm going to be covering a Partner-less Partner.

Let me explain a bit before I catch some flak from the online communities about this decision. Reyhan has been one my favorites for quite some time, but I have never actually committed to building her. It's one of my greatest Magic missteps in the past two years.

The three legends depicted above are the most common pairings with Reyhan, and it's easy to see why. Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker (225 decks) adds counters incredibly fast and puts a clock on your opponents to answer your beater quickly, plus Reyhan can steal Ishai's counters in a pinch. Ravos, Soultender (207 decks) returns creatures that have died to our hand so we can continue to recycle and accumulate counters. At face value, Tana, the Bloodsower (85) becomes massive and makes more tokens when she inevitably connects. However, she does so much more once you factor in all of red's sacrifice and on-death effects.

While all of these are powerful partners with Reyhan, I'm choosing to take Reyhan solo. I will never fault a player who chooses any of these or the other partners available, even if just for the colors. However, that modal playstyle, the shifting strategies and colors, is exactly the reason I have struggled with Reyhan so much.

I am enamored with possibilities. I see the various build paths, and I can't commit. With Silas Renn, Seeker Adept you can build Modular tribal or an effective Sultai Glissa, the Traitor deck with any number of artifact synergies. Or you could choose Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder and build a deck focused on lifelinking huge creatures for obscene amounts of life. The possibilities are endless... and that's why I'm choosing to strip those all away, to see what options exist when we go deeper.

So what is Reyhan about? We can get a sense of it by looking at her doppelganger, Death's Presence.

These work nearly the same way, with a few important tweaks, and they are going to be our main moneymakers. Reyhan is all about accumulating counters and keeping them on the field. We want to loop creatures to transfer and reuse counters as much as we can. This means that we need to focus on a few aspects of what this entails: bodies to hold onto counters; meaningful and easy access to counters; and ways to recycle those creatures.

Ultimately, we want to outsize the competition. Counters are power, and that's what we'll focus on. We can potentially go wide with something like Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest, but I'm going to eschew that choice for now, to focus as much as possible on Reyhan's specific ability.

Path of Destruction

One of the biggest realizations I made years ago when first attempting to brew Reyhan was that I needed a way for my counters to survive a board wipe. While cards like Cyclonic Rift and Merciless Eviction are inevitable, I knew the vast majority of wipes would be destruction-based. If I had a full board of creatures carrying +1/+1 counters, once the wipe hits, I would need a legal target onto which I could transfer all those counters.

This is where the indestructible keyword shines like a beacon of hope. With the release of Amonkhet, we saw the addition of many new Gods, but more importantly, we were introduced to a cycle of powerful indestructible creatures. Rhonas the Indomitable and Bontu the Glorified renewed my excitement for Reyhan. With how the deck functions, I think it very likely for both of these Gods to be "on" at any given point. Our opponent has to chump a massive deathtoucher every turn? Some decks can't do that at all. A massive indestructible creature with menace? Equally a problem.

These aren't the only cards. Predator Ooze isn't as well-known, but it does everything that this deck wants to do. It attacks, it grows counters, and it's indestructible. We also have access to the astounding and fabulous Yahenni, Undying Partisan as well; they are a perfect fit in the deck. We can even look to literally Troll our opponents with the now defunct Regenerate keyword by using cards like Varolz, the Scar-Striped and Lotleth Troll.

Production Values

While having creatures to place counters on is good, we also need creatures that are able to generate counters in some way. For some, power and toughness is innately determined by +1/+1 counters, while others generate +1/+1 counters as an ability. Counters are a very well-explored design space, so we have a lot of options to consider. Since we're considering a Partner-less Golgari build, let's take a look at a few lesser-known options that always seem to get cut when we start adding colors.

All three of these creatures appear in 20% or fewer of Reyhan decks. I remember pulling multiple Vastwood Hydras when I first started cracking packs in Magic 2014. The Hydra mostly sat in my oldest bulk binder until Reyhan came to light. In truth, it's still there, since I haven't actually built the deck in paper yet, but this is still a card that should see more love. It's a one-shot effect that parallels Reyhan's own ability. While Reyhan stacks counters up, the Hydra spreads them around. Together they create a staggering amount of counters. Reyhan can place counters onto the Hydra from dying creatures, to then exploit it for massive gain. This card is only in 18% of Reyhan decks, and it's a card that likely gets cut once other colors starts to squeeze it out of the spotlight.

Speaking of Hydras, here's one that's only included in around 9% of decks: Scourge of Skola Vale. It generates counters by sacrificing our creatures. That is quite literally what we want to do. Even without Reyhan, this can keep this counter train rolling, and with her on the field things get really out of hand. Also, while it starts as a very small 2/2, it does have innate trample, and with the number of counters we'll be throwing around, that keyword is very valuable for us.

Servant of the Scale is similar to the aforementioned Hydra, but it only appears in 4% of decks. I don't usually like including many one-drop creatures in my decks; Commander is mostly built on resource accumulation so one-drops tend to not make as much impact. However, I like to include a few in my green decks. Servant of the Scale, on its face, does very little. It's a single counter that can be moved around. However, when combined with Reyhan, it becomes a mighty force multiplier. Would it stay in the build after playtesting? I'm not sure, but it's something I'd like to test.

Verdurous Gearhulk eluded my collection for some time. I fell in love immediately, but the prices in Standard stonewalled my interest in the card until I forgot about it. Now I have a few copies. There's nothing fancy about Gearhulk. It spreads around power like a champ. Eight power spread around up to five bodies? That sounds great. While it may not seem like that much, this is the type of card that greases the wheels. It enables so many strategies, as well as being a threat on its own. It currently is in 20% of Reyhan decks, and I think I would end up cutting it with a larger card pool, but since Reyhan is going solo, we have the room to test it out.

Means of Industry

If we're going to talk about +1/+1 counter decks, we can't ignore the staple cards. I've built multiple variations of Reyhan accompanied by a variety of Partners. Above, we briefly discussed the cards that would only see play in a "mono" Golgari deck, so now let's talk about the card that will always be expected from Reyhan, whether she has a Partner or not.

Forgotten Ancient is a beast of a card. Most people are aware enough of Managorger Hydra, but this was the original. A lack of trample can be a problem, but that isn't much of a deal-breaker when it can spread counters around. Yes, it will likely eat spare removal quite quickly, but having a "vanilla" creature eat a removal spell is a trade-off I'm willing to make.

With Commander 2015 we received a card that is one of my personal favorites in Magic. Bloodspore Thrinax Devours and it puts fat stacks of counters on the board. What else could you want? Devour can be a risky play if we want to maximize the risk (and reward), but Reyhan lets us avoid some of that struggle by moving counters onto it.

Lastly is the section that needs no introduction. Hardened Scales and its lot have been a mainstay of these decks since their inception, and that will likely never change. Putting one counter on a creature isn't much, and putting a single counter on each creature we control is certainly flashy, but it isn't until a Hardened Scales effect hits the board that it truly becomes an issue. Scales turns one counter into two, or two counters into three, and along with its serpentine sibling, Winding Constrictor, the math gets even more fun.

Then there are the true doublers with Corpsejack Menace and the infamous Doubling Season. We can look to Kalonian Hydra as well for an aggressive, must-answer slant. Regardless, these are deck-defining cards, and your opponents would be advised to answer them before a tidal wave of counters crashes down upon them.

Reap and Sow

With all the talk of accumulating counters, there should be a way to use them other than just trying to set records for power on board. With that in mind, we have plenty of options. Ooze Flux lets us convert our power into additional bodies. With the amount of counters that this deck is able to create, this lets us create a modular army. Crystalline Crawler is another way that we can convert counters into resources. This time we're converting it into something more dangerous: mana. I've stared down an opponent's Crystalline Crawler before, and its very existence gives me anxiety. Suddenly adding four counters to this beast makes me worry.

If we're not able to kill our opponents through combat damage, why not expedite the process through counter conversion as well? Walking Ballista and Triskelion allows us to fire damage into our opponents' creatures or into their life totals, and once the engine starts, either of these can leave nothing in their wake. While it can't act as player removal, I've seen a Retribution of the Ancients soft-lock a board as well. It is a terrible feeling to throw creatures into the firing line just to buy time to potentially draw removal.

Solo: A Commander's Story

While Reyhan has plenty of reasons to partner up, I think there's a deep enough pool of cards to build her by herself. I know people will say there's "no reason" to not build her with more colors - or even with the other green-black Partner, Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper - but I disagree. There's something simplistic about a self-contained commander. I think Reyhan can helm a sufficiently powerful deck by herself, and she offers up so many options that there's a build path for anyone. Below is my quick take on a "mono" Golgari build.

”All By Herself: Rally Behind Reyhan”

Commander (1)
Creature (33)
Artifact (2)
Instant (7)
Enchantment (9)
Sorcery (11)
Land (37)

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As always, 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