Underdog's Corner — Saffi Eriksdotter
This article is Round 5 of the Underdog’s Corner, a series spotlighting various lesser-used commanders and their place in the format. Each article makes the argument for a single commander that deserves more play, as well as highlighting key cards and synergies.
Welcome back to another round of the Underdog's Corner! In this installment, I continue last week's trend and finally round out the color wheel by covering a commander with a white color identity. We don't even need to change planes! Hailing from Dominaria, our newest general comes in as our ninth most played green-white commander with 116 current decks. Please give a warm welcome to our newest underdog, Saffi Eriksdotter!
Unlike some of the other underdog commanders that we've covered, Saffi Eriksdotter is probably more well-known for being part of the 99 in decks helmed by other legends. For example, Saffi currently appears in 544 Karador, Ghost Chieftain decks, which is good for 50% of existing Karador decks on EDHREC. Saffi also appears in nearly 50% of Captain Sisay and Gaddock Teeg decks on the site. While Saffi is a popular piece in these decks, I think that she offers enough to helm a deck of her own, and I think that 116 decks is criminally low.
As a commander, I think Saffi has a number of things going for her. First and foremost, she has one of the greatest creature types in the game: scout. While this doesn't really help her strategy, I thought it worth of note. On a more serious note, Saffi does carry the human subtype, which allows us to dip into tribal elements such as Dearly Departed and Thalia's Lieutenant, but I think that deck is better commanded by Sigarda, Heron's Grace for now.
Leaving behind the tribal aspects, the versatility of Saffi's ability is what sets her apart from other legends.
"Sacrifice Saffi Eriksdotter: When target creature is put into your graveyard from the battlefield this turn, return that card to the battlefield."
At the cost of freely sacrificing Saffi, we get to trade our commander's life for the life of one of our creatures. This allows us to take extra advantage of enters and leaves the battlefield triggers as well as just being a piece of protection for key cards. Her ability's versatility is invaluable.
Lastly, despite being over ten years old, Saffi's stats still seem tailor-made for what she wants to accomplish. Both her converted mana cost and power of two are relevant for the decks game plan. Being able to replay Saffi multiple times because of her low starting cost gives us the flexibility to leverage her abilities at any stage of the game.
The Value Train
Saffi's ability to recur creatures enables us to take more advantage of our "enter the battlefield" (ETB), "leave the battlefield" (LTB), and death triggers. We can double up on ETB triggers using Panharmonicon and use Rings of Brighthearth to target two creatures with her ability. However, unless we are throwing our creatures into combat or already have a way to sacrifice creatures on the board, we're probably going to be recurring creatures that sacrifice themselves.
Sakura-Tribe Elder is one of the most played creatures in EDH, and there's an argument for it to be included in any creature-based green deck. The Tribe Elder appears in 77% of Saffi decks, and according to EDHREC's list of top creatures, and only appears in decks at a lower frequency than Eternal Witness and Solemn Simulacrum. In Saffi's deck, at worst we get to use the elder's ability twice to fix our mana and ramp an extra land. Another ramp creature is Burnished Hart. The disparity of decks running it vs Sakura-Tribe Elder leaves the inclusion of Burnished Hart open for debate; however, the potential to ramp 4 lands in one turn is a tempting prospect.
Spore Frog stalls our opponent's ability to kill us for a turn while we hunt for a solution. Saffi lets us double up on turns, buying us more time. This may not be the most proactive use of Saffi's ability, but when the borrowed time lets us find an answer it's worth it. While Spore Frog sees play in 17% of Saffi decks, Kami of False Hope doesn't show up on Saffi's EDHREC page at all, which seems strange since the creature is a color-shifted duplicate of the frog.
Soul of the Harvest, Mentor of the Meek, and Cathars' Crusade all offer powerful incentives for recurring creatures with Saffi, and I think that they should be strongly considered for most builds. One creature that probably doesn't make the cut often, but I think would be a fun inclusion is the former standard all-star, Thragtusk. While not appearing in Saffi's top cards, the old beast could be a fun inclusion for a few games since we get to benefit from both of its triggers.
The Main Event
We talked about card synergies and ways to get value out of Saffi's ability, so now we're now going to talk about the major allure of using her as a commander: combo potential. The strength of having a combo-piece in the command zone can't be understated, and Saffi is exactly that. One of that potential's major strengths is the redundancy of the deck's combos.
While some combo pieces in other loops are only good within the combo, one of the advantages of using Saffi Eriksdotter as a commander is that we don't have to make sacrifices by including said pieces. Each piece of the puzzle can stand on its own, which only strengthens the deck.
The recent release of Aether Revolt's Renegade Rallier provided four interchangeable creatures for this first combo. These other creatures include Sun Titan, Karmic Guide, and Reveillark which are EDH staples in their own right. Any of these four creatures combined with Saffi and any free sacrifice outlet generates infinite ETB, LTB, and dies triggers. The importance of Saffi's converted mana cost and power show up here, allowing the inclusion Renegade Rallier and Reveillark.
With the addition of Altar of Dementia or Blasting Station, we have eight different combinations with our general where we can assemble a three-piece combo that can end the game. Ashnod's Altar and Phyrexian Altar can generate infinite mana if we insert them into the combo instead which should lead to a victory through a massive resource advantage. This isn't the only combo that exists that includes Saffi, far from it, but this is the most redundant combo.
Ignoring our general for a second, the combination of Karmic Guide and Reveillark also allows us to execute the same infinite loop discussed so far. For this loop, one important thing to remember is that whenever either creature enters the battlefield, it needs to be sacrificed before its triggered ability resolves or else the loop fizzles.
The combo of Loyal Retainers and Saffi Eriksdotter is amusing when you think about it. Each creature is sacrificing itself to bring back the other from the dead over and over again. Nothing else is happening, but you get to see a resurrection loop at least. Saffi and her loyal followers generate the same infinite triggers as the previous combo, but they form a three-part combo with anything that benefits from those triggers. Altar of the Brood generates infinite mill, Cathars' Crusade generates infinite +1/+1 counters, Soul of the Harvest generates infinite draw, etc. Altar of the Brood also can be inserted along with either of the altars in the previous loop to generate infinite mill as well.
As with nearly every combo, it is susceptible to well-timed removal. If our opponent targets Loyal Retainers while Saffi's trigger is on the stack, we're out of luck unless we have another element to recur our creatures. That is, if we weren't playing a color combination that is known for hate-bears. For those that don't know, hate-bears are creatures that are disruptive to our opponent's game plan. The most well-known of these is probably Thalia, Guardian of Thraben with other notable inclusions such as Vryn Wingmare and Gaddock Teeg. For our purposes, we will look to include Grand Abolisher and Dragonlord Dromoka to prevent our opponent's from interacting with us while we attempt to win.
One Last Line of Play
While I didn't touch on it, the application of Birthing Pod in this deck could potentially fill a novel on its own, but I'm going to attempt to cover one complicated line of play.
So let's get to it!
Now, we need to make a few assumptions for this explanation. The first is that we have a land in our graveyard. Fetch-lands are common so we'll assume that it's Windswept Heath. The second assumption is that we have an instant or a sorcery card in our graveyard as well. This could be an Enlightened Tutor that was used to tutor for Birthing Pod, or maybe it was just a humble Rampant Growth. The next assumption is our board state. We have Saffi Eriksdotter, Renegade Rallier, and Birthing Pod on the battlefield, and we have access to five untapped lands.
For reference, here are the cards that will be mentioned prominently in the combo.
Step 1 - Set Up:
We have five open mana at the start of our turn.
- Sacrifice Saffi Eriksdotter targeting Renegade Rallier. Then, sacrifice Rallier to Birthing Pod. Rallier returns to the battlefield bringing Saffi along for the ride. Pod finds Felidar Guardian which then exiles and returns (flickers) Pod. We have four mana to use.
- Sac Saffi targeting Felidar, sac Felidar to Birthing Pod. Felidar returns via Saffi and flickers Pod. Pod searches for Reveillark. We have three open mana.
- Sacrifice Felidar to Pod. Pod searches for Karmic Guide which returns Felider. Felidar flickers Pod.
- Note: Saffi is currently in the graveyard.
Step 2 - Cataclysmic Gearhulk:
We have two open mana remaining.
- Sacrifice Felidar to Pod. Pod searches for Cataclysmic Gearhulk. We target Pod and Renegade Rallier with the Gearhulk's ETB trigger. Gearhulk, Guide, and Reveillark move to the graveyard.
- Reveillark's LTB trigger occurs. We return Felidar and Karmic Guide. Guide returns Reveillark, and Felider flickers Pod.
Step 3 - Reaper of Flight Moonsilver
We have one open mana remaining.
- Sacrifice Felidar to Pod and search for Reaper of Flight Moonsilver.
- With our assumptions, we should now have a land, instant, creature, and artifact in our graveyard, giving us Delirium. We have zero open mana.
- Sacrifice Guide to Reaper, then sacrifice Reveillark to Reaper. Reveillark's ability returns Saffi and Guide. Guide returns Reveillark.
- Sacrifice Saffi targeting Reveillark, then sacrifice Reveillark to Reaper. Reveillark returns via Saffi. Reveillark returns Saffi and Felidar. Felidar flickers Pod.
- NOTE: We can now generate infinite flickers, which can generate infinite mana and infinite birthing pod activations. To do this, sacrifice Saffi targeting Reveillark. Sacrifice Felidar with Reaper. Sacrifice Reveillark with Reaper. Reveillark returns to the battlefield. Reveillark's ability returns Saffi and Felidar. Felidar flickers any permanent (including lands). Repeat this.
Step 4 - Winning
We have infinite mana.
- Note: Karmic Guide is on the battlefield.
- Sacrifice Saffi targeting Karmic Guide. Sacrifice Guide to Pod, Guide returns via Saffi's ability, Guide returns Saffi. Pod searches for Soul of the Harvest.
- Sacrifice Saffi targeting Guide. Sacrifice Guide to Reaper of Flight Moonsilver. Guide returns via Saff. Draw a card. Guide returns Saffi. Draw a card. Repeat this to draw your deck.
Phew! That's the combo. At this point, not only will you have infinite mana and infinite draw power, you get to choose how you win!
I think that wraps up this round of the Underdog's Corner, and I hope you've enjoyed reading about the combo potential of our newest entry.
There are always a few cards that won't get discussed in the article, but here are a few that I think are worth looking into:
Thanks for joining me in the Underdog's Corner!