Rhys to Rith

November 18, 2011

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series Crossover Month

By THAUMATURGE

Thaumaturge aka Dark Thaumaturge runs The Command Zone, one of the OGs of the EDH blogging scene. Decklists abound. If you’re looking for decks, tuning articles, and general thoughts on Commander as a format, there’s no reason not to stop by every week to see what’s being brewed.

One of my friends, who is also a regular member of my playgroup, recently built a Rhys the Redeemed token deck. After playing it a few times he was somewhat dissatisfied with the deck’s performance. Being familiar with the depth and breadth of his Magic collection, I was quick to suggest he add a third color to the deck.

How does playing a three-color deck benefit him? Simply put, playing more colors increases the number of powerful cards he can access. When dealing with a fairly small Magic collection, limiting the number of colors you play also limits the number of really good cards you will be able to play. If you have only a handful of bomb rares in each color, playing one or two colors means you will likely wind up playing some mediocre cards to fill out the deck, thereby weakening the deck’s overall power level.

Of course, the flip side to this is that if you are working with a tight budget and a shallow card pool, there’s a good chance you won’t have enough multi-color non-basic lands to make a reliable mana base. You have to weigh the pros and cons of straining your mana base versus having access to more high-end spells. In this case, since I’m quite familiar with the player in question, and his Magic collection, I know that a three-color mana base is doable for him, so it definitely seems worthwhile to add that third color.

So, for my contribution to the Commandercast Crossover Month, I have enlisted the aid of Brionne, AKA Fork of Doom, to help me power up my friend’s token deck!

This will open up enough options for him that he doesn’t have to resort to sub-par card choices, and hopefully will improve the consistency and quality of his deck.

The only question is: Which color do we add?

There are three choices available: Blue, Black and Red. Ghave is a very strong choice for this kind of deck, but this player was playing Ghave before Rhys so I’d assume he’s not looking to go back to Ghave right away. That leaves Blue and Red. I will be exploring the Red options, as my counterpart for this crossover special, Brionne will be covering the possibilities and potential that Blue would bring to the table.

So, a White/Red/Green token deck, huh? Sounds like a job for Rith, the Awakener! First, let’s take a quick look at what the deck currently looks like:

Creatures
Rhys the Redeemed

Soul Warden
Mentor of the Meek
Twilight Drover
Geist-Honored Monk
Sun Titan

Essence Warden
Elder of Laurels
Sporeback Troll
Prized Unicorn
Skullmulcher
Ant Queen
Acidic Slime
Seedborn Muse
Hornet Queen
Woodfall Primus

Selesnya Guildmage
Juniper Order Ranger
Phytohydra
Phantom Nishoba
Chorus of the Conclave

Adaptive Automaton

Spells
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Garruk Wildspeaker

Sensei’s Divining Top
Minion Reflector
Lightning Greaves
Whispersilk Cloak
Sword of Feast and Famine
Sol Ring
Everflowing Chalice

Intangible Virtue
Sacred Mesa
Words of Wilding
Beastmaster Ascension
Raking Canopy
Parallel Lives
Defense of the Heart
Doubling Season
Asceticism
Perilous Forays
Mana Reflection

Armadillo Cloak
Glare of Subdual
Privileged Position
Pollenbright Wings

Hour of Reckoning
Regrowth
Gaea’s Blessing
Nature’s Spiral
Cultivate
Reap and Sow
Bramblecrush
Harmonize
Overrun
Gelatinous Genesis

Path to Exile
Swords to Plowshares
Disenchant
Worldly Tutor
Strength in Numbers
Naturalize
Harrow
Chord of Calling
Eladamri’s Call

Lands
Command Tower
Elfhame Palace
Sunpetal Grove
Stirring Wildwood
Saltcrusted Steppe
Temple Garden
Selesnya Sanctuary
Razorverge Thicket
Vesuva
Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
Reliquary Tower
Plains x8
Forest x16

It actually looks like a solid foundation to me. Not perfect, but a good place to start. One thing I notice immediately is the lack of Avenger of Zendikar. Noteable exclusions like this are precisely why I think adding a third color is necessary. If we don’t have access to game-winning bombs such as Primeval Titan and Avenger of Zendikar, we have to look for suitable replacements in other colors. Again, more colors = more options.

Enter The Dragon

Rith, the Awakener isn’t quite as potent as Ghave, but he’s certainly not a bad choice. Rith is certainly capable of producing large quantities of tokens very quickly, and for a minimal amount of mana. Combined with Doubling Season or Parallel Lives, Rith should be able to power out an army capable of killing a whole table in two or three turns. This is important, because token decks tend to draw Wrath effects like moths to a flame. If you want to keep your token horde alive long enough to kill anyone with it, the best option is simply to kill the player most likely to have a Wrath of God before they can cast it. This is, incidentally, one of the other big benefits of adding Red to the deck – you gain access to some Haste effects, such as Anger, that can help greatly in this department.

Making Tokens

Red isn’t exactly known for its token-production capabilities, at least not to the extent White and Green are, but there are a handful of good options – Chancellor of the Forge and Dragon Broodmother, just to name a couple.

Let’s start with what the deck already has going for it in the token-producing category:

Rhys the Redeemed
Twilight Drover
Geist-Honored Monk
Ant Queen
Hornet Queen
Selesnya Guildmage

Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Garruk Wildspeaker
Minion Reflector
Sacred Mesa
Words of Wilding
Pollenbright Wings
Gelatinous Genesis

And… that’s it. For a token deck, this isn’t really a lot of ways to produce tokens. Keeping in mind that, when playing a token deck, your opponents will Wrath the board at every opportunity. Thus, you really need to make your token engine resilient and reliable. One thing this player has done right is spreading the token-producers amongst various card-types. If all of your token producers are creatures, Wrath effects are even more devastating, so having some Planeswalkers, Enchantments and Artifacts as back-up token machines is a great move.

Elspeth and Garruk are pretty much standard fare for token-producing planeswalkers, but I’d love to see a Sarkhan Vol in there as well. Yeah, only his Ultimate produces tokens, but don’t forget that giving an existing token horde +1/+1 and Haste is also something we’d highly value here.

It’s a shame this player doesn’t have an Avenger of Zendikar for the deck, but that’s okay because I am sure he does have an Emeria Angel and a Rampaging Baloths available, so those two will definitely come in to make up for the lack of the Avenger.

Geist-Honored Monk, Minion Reflector, Sacred Mesa and Gelatinous Genesis seem like sub-par inclusions, so let’s cut those. In place of Sacred Mesa, I’d rather see Mobilization. True, the Soldier tokens don’t have Flying, which is kinda sucky, but when token decks are operating properly you should have more for tokens than your opponents have blockers, so evasion is actually less important than it otherwise might be. Furthermore, I believe Soldier will be a more relevant creature type than Pegasus, and Mobilization doesn’t have that awkward upkeep cost.

Adaptive Automaton’s presence seems slightly odd in the initial list because the types of tokens being produced are pretty much all over the map. Even if we wind up cutting the Automaton, I think it is beneficial to condense the number of token types to a few, but that might be a bit too restrictive. I’ll just try to emphasize a couple of types, but I won’t worry too much about the rest.

Since our Genral makes saprolings, we probably want to start by emphasizing saprolings. I’d also like to see Solidiers play a larger role.

Saprolings

Artifact Mutation and Aura Mutation would be perfect fits, but I don’t know that my friend will have those, and I only have one copy of each. We’ll keep those on our “wishlist” but I won’t put them in the final list.

Fists of Ironwood is a janky but relevant choice. Rith needs to hit players to do his thing, so giving him Trample helps ensure that we’ll be able to activate him reliably, and Fists + the two tokens ups the Green permanent count by three, helping Rith make more tokens.

Mycoloth is an all-in sort of card, and I rarely see it go unanswered. But, it’s worth noting here, and it’s worth stating that IF Mycoloth goes unanswered it dramatically increases your odds of winning.

Nemata, Grove Guardian is another card I don’t know if we’ll have access to, but I’d love to see it in here. Verdeloth the Ancient, on the other hand, is definitely available and is pretty likely to make the final cut.

Druidic Satchel is a card I’m quite fond of, and it always played well in my Ghave deck. I’d be willing to give it a shot here, too.

Sprout Swarm can be surprisingly effective at times.

Finally, Rith’s Charm is a great little multi-purpose utility spell. Blasphemous Act is getting to be quite popular in my metagame, and the damage-prevention mode could be a hilarious way to counteract that spell’s effect, or any other mass-damage spell that would wipe your token army off the board.

Soldiers

Captain of the Watch, Elspeth, Knight-Captain of Eos, Martial Coup, Mobilization, and Decree of Justice all seem like solid inclusions for pumping out Soldiers.

Darien, King of Kjeldor and Conqueror’s Pledge are also notable possibilities, but it depends on how far we want to push the Soldier type.

Hero of Bladehold would also be great, but isn’t likely to be in-budget.

Other Types

Ant Queen
Hornet Queen
Fresh Meat
Mitotic Slime
Storm Herd
Chancellor of the Forge
Dragon Broodmother
Dragonmaster Outcast
Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs
Awakening Zone

All of these look like they are at least worthy of consideration. Fresh Meat is a good anti-Wrath card, allowing you to Recover quickly from a boardsweep. Living Hive and Symbiotic Wurm are Insect-producers that have their fans, but I think a deck like this will get more mileage out of Ant Queen and Hornet Queen.

Artifacts

Minion Reflector doesn’t seem to fit this deck particularly well, and my search for other token-producing Artifacts didn’t turn up much beyond the already-mentioned Druidic Satchel.

Wurmcoil Engine does fit the power-level criteria but is probably out of our budget as well.

That leaves us with the following token package:

Twilight Drover
Emeria Angel
Knight-Captain of Eos
Captain of the Watch
Dragonmaster Outcast
Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs
Chancellor of the Forge
Ant Queen
Verdeloth the Ancient
Rampaging Baloths
Hornet Queen
Rhys the Redeemed
Selesnya Guildmage
Dragon Broodmother
Mobilization
Martial Coup
Decree of Justice
Fists of Ironwood
Sprout Swarm
Awakening Zone
Fresh Meat
Storm Herd
Pollenbright Wings
Rith’s Charm
Druidic Satchel
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Garruk Wildspeaker
Sarkhan Vol

With possible additional inclusions of: Mycoloth; Nemata, Grove Guardian; Darien, King of Kjeldor; and Conquerer’s Pledge – depending on this player’s card pool and budgetary restrictions.

Token Buffs and Support

The key to finding success with a token deck is making your hordes of 1/1 tokens into true threats, usually by mass buff effects. The classic staples for tokens decks include Overrun and Coat of Arms. I believe Overrun to be somewhat obsolete. Coat of Arms is much better, but potentially risky – you wouldn’t want to play it against other tribal or token decks, so it could possibly be a dead draw in some match-ups. I have a couple of tribal decks, and there is at least one other Ghave deck that could make casting Coat of Arms a very deadly mistake. I’d rather find other options for this category, personally.

Elder of Laurels seems a tad under-powered, and Chorus of the Conclave is just terrible. The rest of the batch seems fine to me, though Adaptive Automaton is the next-closest thing to being on the chopping block. Mirror Entity seems like an almost strictly better option here.

The bomb-iest thing I can think of for this category has to be Titanic Ultimatum. That card pretty much nails the whole appeal of fun of EDH. It’s such a gigantic, swingy effect, there’s no way we can resist playing this card.

I’m a big fan of Overwhelming Stampede, too. As long as we have a 4/4 or larger in play it is much better than Overrun. However, I think with Titanic Ultimatum and Beastmaster Ascension, Overwhelming Stampede might be a bit too redundant. It’s likely we won’t need it, but I wanted to mention it just in case.

Sarkhan Vol does double duty, providing a small mass-pump effect along with enabling Haste. Garruk’s Ultimate also fills this role nicely, and he’s one of the easiest Planeswalkers to successfully go Ultimate with.

Glory of Warfare
In the Web of War
Shared Animosity

These three Enchantments are all excellent contributions that Red brings to a deck like this. In the Web of War is a bit pricey, mana-wise, but the Haste-granting portion is a very compelling bonus. I don’t know that I’d necessarily run all three of these at once, but I’d definitely try to find room for any combination of two of them.

Urabrask, Anger and Fires of Yavimaya are all great additions for granting Haste, but I doubt Urabrask will be an option, so we can go with Fires and Anger, the classic choices.

Eldrazi Monument would be a fantastic choice, as Indestructibility is a highly desired effect for this deck. I don’t see it being available within the budgetary parameters for this particular player, but Dauntless Escort is a budget-friendly stand-in, so I’d definitely recommend playing him. That give us the following:

Mirror Entity
Selesnya Guildmage
Juniper Order Ranger
Anger
Dauntless Escort
Adaptive Automaton
Intangible Virtue
Beastmaster Ascension
Glory of Warfare
In the Web of War
Fires of Yavimaya
Titanic Ultimatum

With Shared Animosity, Urabrask, Eldrazi Monument and Overwhelming Stampede as possible stand-ins for anything we happen to be missing from the above list.

Making Use of Our Tokens

Playing a token horde deck pretty much means we have to hope we don’t encounter too many board sweepers in a given match. However, it is inevitable that it will happen at least once per game. Losing our board postion can be disastrous, but there are steps we can take to mitigate the damage done. We’ve already covered Fresh Meat and Dauntless Escort as suitable options, but there are other ways as well, especially in Red.

The first and foremost has to be Vicious Shadows. This card pretty much stops your opponents from wiping the board, at least until they can answer the Enchantment first. Any self-respecting token deck with access to Red should be playing this card.

While it’s not nearly as lethally potent, Goblin Bombardment is also great way to turn dying tokens into damage. I’d definitely try running this as well.

Turning our dying tokens into damage is great, but turning them into life or cards is also desirable. Fecundity is a card you would hate to play if one of your opponent’s is playing Ghave, but aside from that one match-up I definitely think this card will benefit us far more than it will help our opponents. Meanwhile, Mycologist can give us a healthy dose of life gain in a pinch.

I’d also consider Congregate as a strong possibility for inclusion. It’s not very effective in stopping decks that primarily win via 21 points of General Damage, but the rest of the time  it will be pretty damn good.

We’ve pretty well covered how to turn dying stuff into a useful resource, but what about when our tokens aren’t dying en masse? Well, Soul Warden and Mentor of the Meek are already included in the deck, and they do a pretty good job of turning tokens entering the battlefield into a benefit.

Furystoke Giant also comes to mind as a pretty awesome way to get more mileage out of your token army.

One of the most egregious omissions, by far, has to be Aura Shards. Simply put, this will be one of the most potent effects in the deck. It makes my Jor Kadeen Equipment deck virtually useless until I find a way to answer the Shards. There are countless busted Enchantments and Artifacts that see widespread play in EDH (Sol Ring, anyone?). Aura Shards turns every token, every creature into an answer for those cards.

The second most egregious omission is probably Skullclamp. I’m not sure how many copies this player has available, but I know he’s got to have at least one, and whatever deck it may be in, it’s probably more crucial to this one.

Compiling this data, we arrive at the following list:

Soul Warden
Mentor of the Meek
Essence Warden
Glare of Subdual
Perilous Forays
Congregate
Furystoke Giant
Aura Shards
Skullclamp
Vicious Shadows
Goblin Bombardment
Mycologist
Fecundity

Good Stuff and All the Rest…

There are quite a few cards in the original decklist that didn’t fall into one of the categories above. A lot of these cards are great, and highly desirable. Some are not so great. Quickly weeding out the obvious chaff we might replace some of the weakest or most off-theme cards with a handful of necessary Utility spells, stuf like Austere Command, Return to Dust, or Wheel of Fortune. We want to make sure we have at least a minimal amount of removal, and plenty of card-drawing to keep the pressure on and help us recover from board nukes.

So, by now we should have about a million cards to consider. For our sanity’s sake, I whittled the list down to something plausible:

Creatures
Soul Warden
Mycologist
Mentor of the Meek
Twilight Drover
Emeria Angel
Knight-Captain of Eos
Captain of the Watch

Anger
Furystoke Giant
Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs
Chancellor of the Forge

Wood Elves
Acidic Slime
Ant Queen
Seedborn Muse
Rampaging Baloths
Verdeloth the Ancient
Hornet Queen
Woodfall Primus

Rhys the Redeemed
Selesnya Guildmage
Dauntless Escort
Sigil Captain
Juniper Order Ranger
Dragon Broodmother
Rith, the Awakener

Spells
Swords to Plowshares
Path to Exile
Intangible Virtue
Mobilization
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Return to Dust
Austere Command
Storm Herd

Goblin Bombardment
In the Web of War
Vicious Shadows

Sprout Swarm
Awakening Zone
Fecundity
Cultivate
Harrow
Beastmaster Ascension
Parallel Lives
Fresh Meat
Bramblecrush
Garruk Wildspeaker
Harmonize
Doubling Season
Chord of Calling

Eladamri’s Call
Fires of Yavimaya
Aura Shards
Naya Charm
Rith’s Charm
Glare of Subdual
Glory of Warfare
Sarkhan Vol
Titanic Ultimatum

Sol Ring
Darksteel Ingot
Obelisk of Naya
Skullclamp
Lightning Greaves

Lands
The mana base will be cobbled together from whichever applicable duals available to us, and some important utility lands. I’d recommend the following:
High Market
Kor Haven
Vitu-Ghazi, the City Tree
Gavony Township
Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
Kher Keep

And for those of you with deeper card pools, or deeper pockets, Gaea’s Cradle is obviously pretty bonkers in this deck.

I tried to keep the list above within the card pool he has available but I can’t be sure he’ll have every single card on the list. Furthermore it’s entirely possible – likely, even – that he’ll have a few quibbles with some of my proposed cuts and may want to include “pet cards” he simply enjoys. Toward those ends, below is a list of “alternates”, including some cards I cut, and others I would suggest if budget were less of a constraint.

Artifact Mutation
Aura Mutation
Asceticism
Avenger of Zendikar
Congregate
Conqueror’s Pledge
Crater Hellion
Darien, King of Kjeldor
Decree of Justice
Dragonmaster Outcast
Druidic Satchel
Eldrazi Monument
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Fists of Ironwood
Hero of Bladehold
Loxodon Hierarch
Martial Coup
Mirari’s Wake
Mirror Entity
Nemata, Grove Guardian
Phantom Nishoba
Regrowth
Shared Animosity
Sun Titan
Vigor
Wheel of Fortune

Well, that wraps up my look at converting Rhys the Redeemed into Rith, the Awakener. For an equal but opposite take on the deck, check out Brionne’s article on my blog, The Command Zone, where she explores the many ways in which adding Blue can improve upon this deck. Enjoy!

Thaumaturge’s partner for Crossover Week was Brionne, author of Line in the Sand here at CommanderCast. To see the flip side of their crossover project, click here.

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