Unlikely Alliance – Akiri & Kondo
(Unlikely Alliance | Art by Phil Foglio)
Bald is Beautiful!
Welcome to the Unlikely Alliance column! This series investigates the Commander format's least explored Partner combinations. It's been over two years since Partners became available, and while many pairings lead to obvious builds, or are just obviously strong, most have fewer than 50 decks available in EDHREC's database. Let's have some fun with those!
In this first outing, we will be looking at Akiri, Line-Slinger partnered with Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa.
(Akiri, Line-Slinger | Art by David Gaillet) & (Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa | Art by Ryan Alexander Lee)
Today's article will be a little long, covering the philosophy behind two deck themes that we can reference in future articles.
The decklists that you'll find here are built to be inexpensive. That's not to say they are budget builds, but we won't be using much that costs more than $10, unless those cards are absolutely on-theme for the deck and we can't find a suitable alternative. For example, this week we are including Maze of Ith, despite being $16-$20 and climbing.
Let's see what our Partners are made of.
Akiri typically gets built for Equipment-focused Voltron wins, mostly being partnered with Silas Renn, Seeker Adept or Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder.
However, it's important to recognize that while Akiri benefits from Equipment more than most commanders, she counts all of her controller's artifacts when calculating power.
Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa
Kondo (“Sidar” is a title, like “Khan”) typically gets used in aggressive swarm builds, with his top partners being Tana, the Bloodsower and Tymna the Weaver.
It's easy to overlook the fact that Kondo's main ability makes him useful in pillow fort builds, which are admittedly not very common to begin with.
Kondo was printed in the Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis precon deck, Stalwart Unity, which had a group hug theme, so it makes sense that he'd be used in builds with a similar purpose.
Akiri wants artifacts and Kondo can support swarming weenies, so a deck that amasses an army of small, artifact creature tokens plays to the strengths of both Partner commanders. That said, I don't feel that it's our best build here; a sufficiently large swarm of small artifact creatures with Kondo in play is a win condition on its own, making Akiri superflous. So let's save an Akiri-tokens deck for later, likely when she's partnered with Tana, the Bloodsower, for which there are only 13 decks in the database.
It is worth noting however, that pillow forts are a great way to enable Voltron commanders by giving them time to reach critical mass. So let's try to maximize the roles of both commanders in our deck, and create a Naya pillow fort deck! "But wait," you might say, "that's been done before!" And you would be right: 2.2% of Gahiji, Honored One decks (17 in total) are built with a pillow fort theme.
Those, however, are not also Voltron builds, so while looking at an average Gahiji deck might have some value, we're more likely to find what we need from looking at the pillow fort theme page.
Before we dig into too many more details, let's solidify what we want our deck's narrative to be. Our clan leader, Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa, will protect the clan's champion, Akiri, Line-Slinger, until she gathers enough strength to defeat the clan's enemies.
Akiri is our primary win condition. If we aren't focused on that, then we should be brewing with a different commander. Kondo contributes to our defense. We should be looking for ways to maximize that contribution to our strategies.
Normally I'd want to look at the average build for commanders that we're investigating, but at the time of this writing, the EDHREC database only has 2 decks for Akiri, Line-Slinger // Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa, so it's not worth reprinting in its entirety. Here are some highlights.
Average Akiri // Kondo Highlights
This is definitely a starting point, but it's also clearly not a pillow fort deck, even despite the presence of a Crawlspace. Likewise, it's not doing a great job of maximizing Akiri as a win condition. She probably ends up being a win-more addition to a traditional tokens deck. Tutoring for Purphoros, God of the Forge with Enlightened Tutor rather than looking for an artifact, then comboing with all the token generation (much of which isn't even artifact-based!) is likely the average deck's most common win condition. If that's what we want, we should just use Purphoros as our commander.
Most attempts at brewing a Voltron commander tend to focus on some other theme as the mechanism for building up the commander's power: Auras, Equipment, +1/+1 counters, extra combats, etc. A couple of tricks in the deck will sometimes let all the pieces come together into an explosive play, but it's rarely consistent enough to make the deck good. As noted earlier, Akiri builds frequently fall into this trap, focusing almost exclusively on Equipment. We're definitely going to have some Equipment in our deck, but it needs to do more than just add to her power - it needs to multiply it.
Multiplication vs. Addition
To make a Voltron commander viable, we want to shift our focus away from additive growth, and look for more multiplicative options, which is to say, doubling effects. This kind of approach requires fewer pieces to be in play to achieve the power necessary to eliminate opponents. Looking back at the average deck highlights, the most glaring omissions were the doubling R/W Angels, Aurelia, the Warleader and Gisela, Blade of Goldnight.
Individually, the Angels let a measly 2-power Akiri swing for 4; together, they let her swing for 8. If Akiri has double strike, now she swings for 16, and she still got to take advantage of Kondo's evasion for weenies.
A 0-power Akiri can use a post-block Giant Growth to swing for lethal commander damage with three doubling effects in play. So, built correctly, Vandablast is only a nuisance for an Akiri deck. The fact that she grows in power with more artifacts just makes it easier for the doubling effects to do their job.
The types of doubling effects we will employ are:
- granting double strike
- doubling power
- doubling damage dealt
- triggering additional combat phases
- granting Infect
If you're more interested in brewing with artifact tokens, then you can also add token doubling to the list, but we aren't going to include any Parallel Lives variants to our list today.
Focus on the Fort
We're splitting our deck's attention between Voltron for offense, and pillow fort for defense, so when evaluating cards that commonly go in pillow fort decks we want to avoid other themes that might be related to pillow fort. What's that mean?
Don't Help the Enemy
No group hug for you! We aren't here to make friends; we're isolationists hiding in our pillow fort. We don't want to clean up after others who have been warring with each other, we want the strength to decisively cull outside threats with our alpha strike commander.
Eye on the Prize
Avoid chaos plays; they doesn't advance our goals, and more often than not, they work against us. Everything we do should be working toward making Akiri deal lethal, or discouraging our enemies from looking at us as a target. Making others upset will only encourage them to coordinate removing us from the game.
Finding What Works
As noted earlier, while we could scour the average deck list for Gahiji pillow fort decks it's probably easier to look at EDHREC's pillow fort theme page and ignore the blue cards. After doing that, here is the deck that I think we should go with.
Akiri // Kondo Voltron Pillow Fort
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The mana curve is deliberately a little lower than where Bennie Smith likes to keep it. This is fine considering how often we'll need to recast an aggressive Akiri. It also helps ensure that we'll have enough extra mana for equipping and other activation costs. By the way, if you don't know who Bennie is, check out his articles and give him a follow on Twitter.
Feldon of the Third Path is is an amazing source of recursion. Because his ability is instant speed, in our deck he is even more versatile. While he can make a creature for us to attack with, he can also be activated after blocking to boost Akiri. If that creature happens to be Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder or another creature that can provide a doubling effect, awesome!
Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist is perfect for our deck, and useful with a lot of the Partner commanders. Expect to see her used in this series again.
Activating Mirror Entity after Kondo has helped a low-power Akiri evade blockers can end opponents, and of course it's also useful for defensive plays.
Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer is a holdover from the average deck's token swarm build, but it's hard to sneer at an 8/4 first striker for 5 CMC that also buffs our Voltron commander.
Aurelia, the Warleader is sadly one of the more difficult things to cast in the deck, so it may be worth replacing her with Hellkite Charger or maybe even Combat Celebrant. Okay no, that was a bad joke. Don't cut Aurelia, and if you'd like an alternate win condition with her, find room in the deck for a creature that can tap to generate 2R so she can go infinite with Feldon; Incubation Druid from Ravnica Allegiance might be a good option.
Goblin Goliath is a new card from the Game Night product that repeatedly doubles the damage that Akiri will deal, without granting the same benefit to your opponents. It also pairs nicely with Aurelia if you can afford to activate it again.
While Godo, Bandit Warlord only untaps Samurai for his second attack phase, that's not a problem for Akiri, who has vigilance. But Mirror Entity can be useful to make everything else a Samurai.
I love when supplemental sets print old, setting-specific mechanics on new cards, so Nylea's Colossus from this year's Adaptive Enchantments precon deck definitely has a home here.
Argivian Find is an amazing tool in decks that can use it. It's a budget alternative to Enlightened Tutor, and in some cases can be better, like when we've already tutored for our best Equipment with Godo, but then it gets destroyed.
If you're worried about Red Elemental Blast sitting in your hand when no one at the table is playing blue (it can happen), maybe run a couple of rummaging spells that you can discard it to. This is your budget protection against Cyclonic Rift and Control Magic effects, and it also protects your game-finishing spells from Force of Will.
Congregation at Dawn is a budget option for Worldly Tutor. Besides, who doesn't like stacking the deck?
Onward // Victory gives us double the doubling effects on a single card, with the versatility to use them together or separately! Victory indeed.
Gift of Estates is a "budget" option for Tithe or Land Tax. Try saving it to recover from our artifact lands being destroyed.
Sword of the Chosen is effectively Equipment that doesn't require equipping, and doesn't count against Akiri's power when trying to evade with Kondo's ability. The trade-off here is that it doesn't synergize with Akiri's vigilance, since she would be less powerful blocking the next turn. If that trade-off doesn't sit well with you, maybe find room for an Unwinding Clock or replace the Sword with a piece of utility Equipment, like a Sword of the Animist.
Open the Armory is another budget option for Enlightened Tutor.
Gaining infect with Grafted Exoskeleton effectively halves the damage Akiri needs to deal in order to knock someone out of the game if it comes down early. Given its cost, this is probably one of the easiest items in the deck to replace with an upgrade.
Ghitu Firebreathing is the only Aura in the game that both: A) has flash, allowing it be applied post-blocking, and; B) has a built-in way to return itself to hand. This is already useful on a Voltron commander, but things get bonkers if Nylea's Colossus is on the battlefield. Don't forget that it's a good target for Open the Armory.
Duelist's Heritage makes for fun politics, but use it sparingly and wisely.
Don't laugh (too much) at Equinox. This deck runs three-and-a-half artifact lands that are susceptible to Vandalblast, and while having one or two get blown up is a nuisance, if you also have Equinox in play, you are then able to protect all of your artifacts from mass, spell-based removal. If Mishra's Factory has been activated, that includes Damnation and other destruction-based board wipes.
Since our curve is on the cheap side of things, we don't need as much ramp. Crop Rotation fills one of those slots, letting us turn one of our lands into artifact land at instant speed (see Equinox commentary).
Some people feel that Sunforger's equip cost is too expensive for what it does. Personally, I'm very happy to pay, then leave open the two mana needed to tutor up a Settle the Wreckage, Heroic Intervention, or other answer for a threat to my life or board state.
New from Ravnica Allegiance
The utility of being either spot removal or a huge pump for Akiri makes Collision // Colossus a great include for our deck.
Smothering Tithe is an auto-include in all white decks from now on, but is even more amazing with Akiri.
While we aren't running a creature-heavy deck, we can expect Akiri to need recasting quite often. Rhythm of the Wild not only ensures that she makes it onto the table, but also helps her attack more often, while letting our defenders be more intimidating.
Several budget options above already called out their replacements, but other things to consider in the deck if you already own them or were considering acquiring them include: Berserk, Tireless Tracker, and Hammer of Nazahn.
Thanks for exploring Akiri // Kondo with me; it's been fun! The deck we ended up with here is not the one I had planned on writing about when first starting the project, but that's the beauty of using a tool like EDHREC to help you brew.
Who would you like to see featured in the next Unlikely Alliance article? Cast your vote now!
Keep having fun!