Sunday, June 11, 2017

Alliteration Commander

Art by Steve Prescott

"Cast Time Stretch off the top of my library. It's copied because of Melek, so I'll get an extra four turns after this one."

This paraphrases a play I made at a Commander house party many years ago with people I haven't met before. Needless to say, this wasn't very fun for my opponents as evidenced by their faces expressing boredom and perhaps masking annoyance. This marked the only time in my Commander career where I made a hypothesis about an aspect of my deck not being fun (but fun for me) and then experimented anyway to see if the results turned out as expected. When Izzet goes bad, I guess!

When building a Commander deck without restrictions in place, you have enough cards at your disposal to push the envelope in terms of power level ...and how much you can violate the social contract of your play group. If you're trying to build a deck that you enjoy but don't want to do something like combo off on turn three or make all of your opponents go from 0 poison counters to 10 poison counters all at once ...then how much should you be pulling your punch? Social contracts vary among play groups, so you'll have a different answer depending on whom you're playing with.

"I will never again cast spells that grant me extra turns," I declared to myself. So then I had to determine what WAS appropriate socially for my Melek deck. I eventually just took apart the deck because I couldn't figure out a deck approach that I was happy with that also wasn't hurting others' fun.

Fast forward to years later, I was able to figure out how I can be happy as a Commander player but still optimize the deck I'm building without worrying whether I've "gone too far." The key to my happiness: build a deck around a theme that has a suffocatingly restrictive card pool.

Building Boundaries

Art by Eric Deschamps

The first deck I built following this rule was a Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh deck. Already locking myself into monored, I didn't stop there. I told myself, "You can only cast spells that a pyromancer can cast." This meant no earth magic or lightning magic. This also meant no non-fiery type of stuff like Sol Ring and Solemn Simulacrum (Magic Man Sam would be proud).

Aside for those wondering: despite Pathfinder & Ogre Battle 64 treating a combination of fire and earth to be "lava," and Legend of Korra treating lavabending as an advancement of earthbending; because Jaya Ballard flavor text appears for Wall of Lava and Lava Burst, I allowed myself to play with lavamancy as well like Volcanic Visions.

Yes, I lost the games I played while piloting the pyromancy deck. But I was happy in those games! I was able to showcase something cool I created but also not have to worry about whether I needed to have dialed it back when building the deck. A Johnny player satisfied.

This brings me to the present and my latest deck, having completed it last night in time for playing with it at Grand Prix Las Vegas. Instead of "only play with fire" as my restriction, I decided on "only play alliteration cards."

Looking over the available legendary creatures, I decided on Rhys the Redeemed. A popular commander, I know, and I'll inherently have a weaker deck than other Rhys decks. Sorry, Dragonlord Dromoka - you came close, though.

Before we go further, let's share the decklist:

Rhys the Redeemed Alliteration Commander

Commander (1)
Rhys the Redeemed

Lands (40)
Grove of the Guardian
Mystifying Maze
Saltcrustred Steppe
Secluded Steppe
Sejiri Steppe
Selesnya Sanctuary
Seraph's Sanctuary
Serra's Sanctum
18 Forests
14 Plains

CMC 1 (4)
Font of Fertility
Soul Snare
Sylvan Safekeeper
Weathered Wayfarer

CMC 2 (10)
Call of the Conclave
Captain's Claws
Devoted Druid
Metallic Mimic
Seeker of Skybreak
Selesnya Signet
Selfless Spirit
Sprout Swarm
Sylvan Scrying
Whisperer of the Wilds

CMC 3 (13)
Adaptive Automaton
Caller of the Claw
Emrakul's Evangel
Flash Foliage
Griffin Guide
Mentor of the Meek
Monastery Mentor
Scion Summoner
Sosuke's Summons
Soul Separator
Stasis Snare
Stonybrook Schoolmaster
Weirding Wood

CMC 4 (12)
Captain's Call
Captured by the Consulate
Carrion Call
Chameleon Colossus
Dawn to Dusk
Dusk // Dawn
Faith's Fetters
Sanctifier of Souls
Saproling Symbiosis
Seed Spark
Solemn Simulacrum
Summon the School

CMC 5 (10)
Cathars' Crusade
Consulate Crackdown
Gutter Grime
Herald of the Host
Kessig Cagebreakers
Privileged Position
Scatter the Seeds
Silklash Spider
Sphere of Safety
Splitting Slime

CMC 6 (1)
Argentum Armor

CMC 7 (2)
Silent Sentinel
Summoning Station

CMC 8 (1)
Silver Seraph

CMC (1)
Worldspine Wurm

CMC X (5)
Alliance of Arms*
Chord of Calling
Gelatinous Genesis
Hooded Hydra
Riptide Replicator

* Alliance of Arms technically doesn't have X in its cost, but it may as well since it's like "Group X" is in its cost

Art by Magali Villeneuve

Alliteration Amendments

For the longest time, I actually had a different commander in mind for my alliteration deck: Atogatog. Not only is that creature a cool one, but I would have access to all five colors, maximizing my alliteration potential. Along the way, though, I figured out two problems with choosing Atagatog:
1) All Atog creatures aren't alliterations ...and I don't like playing a commander that is only utilized for its colors.
2) Atagatog violated my alliteration rules.

The traditional rules for alliteration allow for card names like Sandsower and Coursers' Accord (apologies if either of those two examples are false - I wasn't an English major). Sandsower has the 's' sound twice within its one word. Coursers' Accord are two words that don't share the same sound at the beginning of each word, but the emphasized syllables both have the same sound.

In Sandsower's case, I looked at cards that was only one word. Like Mirari. It doesn't have any other word to form an alliteration with in the card name. But if I allow Sandsower, then these single-word cards would be an exception when other cards with more than one word, like Privileged Position, do not have alliterative syllables but still are alliteration cards themselves.

For Coursers' Accord, I realized I could make mistakes on whether a card fulfills alliteration as I try to sound out card names and determine which are the stressed syllables.

For simplicity's sake, and to avoid disputes on legitimacy of one of my cards while the deck is in action, I set some alliteration restrictions:

Rule #1: No single-worded (or zero-worded) cards
Rule #2: Non-capitalized words like "the" or "of" aren't factored into alliteration
Rule #3: Use the beginning sound of each word for alliteration fulfillment
Rule #4: Single words on split cards are fine as long as both sides of the split card are alliterative
Rule #5: Both the front and back of the card of a double-faced card must be alliterations
Rule #6: How I personally read aloud cards is the basis for checking for alliteration
Rule #7: Alliteration rules don't apply to basic lands (they are also the only cards that are allowed more than one of in commander, already setting a precedent that they're exceptions)

Art by Dan Scott

Fun Facts

  • I didn't have a creature board wipe until Amonkhet released Dusk // Dawn
  • Dusk // Dawn and Dawn to Dusk both exist and are in my deck
  • Sosuke, Son of Seshiro was a serious contender until I figured out there's not enough in the card pool to support this triple-alliterative commander
  • There's three alliterative Ooze token-creating cards
  • I went back-and-forth on whether Alliance of Arms was legal for my deck. Ultimately, I was too hung up on how I say "Ally" (which has a different beginning sound from how I say "Alliance") and determined I was able to say "Alliance of Arms" to where it sounds alliterative
  • Selesnya Signet and Selesnya Sanctuary are so luckily alliteration to contribute toward having a smooth mana base
  • I hope Wizards creates a Bant commander that is alliterative because Seaside Citadel and Simic Signet are waiting for their time in the sun
  • There's a whole heck of a lot of alliteration token-creating cards; is it something about the cuteness of tokens that makes card name writers want to alliterate? Or are there just so many token-creating cards that there's bound to be lots of alliteration cards?
  • Sweet Synergy: Seraph Sanctuary, Herald of the Host, Rhys the Redeemed
  • There were enough green and/or white enchantment cards that mattered that I was able to have an enchantment sub-theme that supports Sphere of Safety and Serra's Sanctum!
  • Alas, Solemn Simulacrum is alliterative ...but this time I feel great including the card!
  • I don't think I can now NOT notice, during spoiler season, when a new alliterative card is released
Art by Noah Bradley

Parting Paragraph

Thanks for reading. I had a blast creating this deck, both in finishing it but also while looking for cards that fit into my alliteration card pool. It's often a delight to discover cards that are perfect for the deck's gameplay but also still is alliterative. And I'll look forward to having a lot more fun as I read aloud the names of the spells I cast at Grand Prix Las Vegas. Hope to see you there!

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