My first EDH deck, well before the days it had been dubbed “Commander,” was a mono-blue number piloted by Azami, Lady of Scrolls. Far and away the best pile of cards I’d ever put together, I tuned this stack into a monster – capable of winning as early as turn 2 or turn 3, and robust enough to take down a trio of opponents with ease. It demonstrated a fundamental flaw in the banned list of the format, and led to an escalation of arms in our playgroup, to the point where our decks all began to resemble Vintage combo decks or five-color uber-control in order to combat these combo piles.
Initially, this deck worked from a very simple plan – assemble a bunch of artifact mana sources, play Tolarian Academy, and commence shenanigans until the opponents are dead. This strategy turned the deck into an amalgamation of old school Academy and High Tide, taking the best interactions from both and combining them with some of the technology from Legacy Permanent Waves.
It was through my exhaustive searches on Gatherer that I developed the deck into the monster that it was. I would think of a card that was strong in the deck, and then combine it with basically any search term I could think of, limiting the results to blue and colorless options, and then find any kind of redundancy available to cut the variance down in each game. This is a strategy for deckbuilding in Commander that I still use today, and it’s one of the best reasons to find a tribal subtheme for your decks – many times these tribal synergies allow your creatures to take the place of spells, and give you added benefits, as well.
The first blow to Azami’s grip on our local metagame was the banning of Tinker. I can’t say this surprised me in any way, but it did leave a vacancy in the deck that was difficult to overcome. I could no longer turn my Mind Stone into a Gilded Lotus, or turn my Mana Crypt into Memnarch. It made Memory Jar a much weaker play, as five mana is much, much more than three. It didn’t cripple my deck, but it did put a chink in the armor, and made it a little less streamlined, and a bit less robust. Still, the deck survived.
Then, a bit later on, they banned Tolarian Academy, and I decided to hang up my basic Islands.
My Azami deck was, in no uncertain terms, the most fun you could have with Tolarian Academy. You honestly haven’t lived until you’ve combined Academy with Oboro Breezecaller. Or turned it into an Artifact with Memnarch, and gone infinite with Filigree Sages. When they banned Academy, all the wind left my sails, and I decided to put down the deck and focus my attention on other projects. Occasionally I would pick it up to try out a few cute new ideas, but it had largely left the rotation of decks in favor of more interesting things.
This coincided with a gentleman’s agreement to better conform to the vision Sheldon Menery outlines as the guiding principles of the format. We had decided to undertake a massive reduction of arms, and scaled back the power level of the decks we played – both to better participate in games when traveling, as well as to allow some friends who were recently returning to the game to be more involved in our casual circle.
This was also about the time that I decided to dismantle my Captain Sisay deck, which I regret. Such is Magic, and life.
Not all was lost, of course. I got to play some sweet brews, and this was when I discovered the joy of the Zombie tribe, with Balthor the Defiled. It’s also when I chose to expand my manabase into three colors, and brewed up a slew of UGx decks, allowing me to play all of my favorite spells. Our group continued to enjoy our scaled back power level, and we all lived happily ever after.
Except Bryant Cook. The kid can’t help himself. He’s still bringing guns to a knife fight, and we can’t convince him otherwise.
The real clincher for me was Grand Prix Montreal of this year. Somehow, although I’m positive I left the country with Balthor and Intent both in tow, I came home with neither deck. I’m not saying either was stolen – there’s no way for me to verify if that’s the case or if I’m just stupid and lost them – but I left my house with two (nearly fully foiled out) EDH decks, and returned with zero.
If you’ve never lost something like this, I can’t really explain to you how disheartening it is. It’s not about the money, although that hurts too (and more each time I think about just what cards were in these decks), it’s about the time and effort you’ve put into creating these masterpieces, only to have that work undone for no gain. Honestly, I’m hoping that someone DID steal the decks, at least that way I know that there’s someone out there enjoying the work that I did, rather than seeing it rot in a dumpster somewhere. When I realized that I was now down my two favorite Commander decks, I basically gave up on the format entirely. I didn’t want to build a new deck, I didn’t want to pick up any that I had left. I didn’t want to borrow one from a friend, and I didn’t even want you to mention the word “commander” in my earshot. It was a bad, bad time.
Of course, Wizards conveniently chose this opportunity to reintroduce the Zombie tribe in the newest expansion. Thanks for the rub-ins, Wizards!
While digging through a box of cards looking for some random sideboard card for a Legacy deck, I found [card azami, lady of scrolls]Azami[/card] calling out to me. Use me, she said, and I will restore your faith in Commander. There she was, in all her asian foilness, just begging to tap a Trinket Mage for value. And I heard her call, and I submitted.
Things are different now. Without access to Tolarian Academy, or Tinker, you lose a lot of what she once was. You lose a real way to exploit the mana in the deck outside of High Tide effects, which are much more difficult to take advantage of than they once were. This leads you in a different, much more combo-oriented direction than you previously needed to be. You can’t just use your lands as the engine to power out cool spells, you really need to stick a combo and go infinite to “go off” with the deck. On the other hand, we’ve been blessed with a multitude of new toys to play with, which increase the overall power level of the cards, despite the reduction of the power of a few individual cards.
Let’s start with the decklist. Apologies if the formatting of this list is a bit poor, it’s tough to capture 100 card decks.
General: Azami, Lady of Scrolls
Primary Game Plans
By combining these spells, you can create infinite mana. There are variations to the theme, but the basic principle is the same. You play a 1 or 0 mana artifact, return another to your hand, tap the first for mana, and then cycle the two to create infinite storm and infinite mana.
Again, variations on the theme exist. The Helm makes your Top free to play, the Future Sight allows you to play it from the top of your library. You draw your entire deck.
This is a more specific combo, but a few odd twists can allow you to work around either combo piece. You use Azami and Mind over Matter as an infinite Merfolk Looter, to find a card draw spell like Ideas Unbound, fueling additional draws/mana until you have the win in hand.
4. Azami, Lady of Scrolls, Wizards
As a method of generating a critical mass of spells to play, as well as recovering from any opposition, Azami plus nearly all of your creatures allows you to simply draw a million cards. If you’re allowed to untap with Azami in play, it often spells victory despite appearing less overtly threatening than other powerful plays. When you combine Azami with creatures like Merrow Levitator or Inspired Sprite, you turn your deck into a machine, much like the combination of Nettle Sentinel and Heritage Druid. It’s difficult to fall behind when each of your spells cantrip, and all of your creatures draw 2 or 3 cards.
5. Memnarch, mana
While not a win in-and-of itself, Memnarch stealing a few critical permanents tends to lead to concessions quite often.
Actually Winning A Game
There are two distinct paths to victory once you’ve established one or more of the above combos. The three most important cards to be on the lookout for are Stroke of Genius, Blue Sun’s Zenith, and Laboratory Maniac.
With the X spells, it’s obvious that you simply force each opponent to draw more cards than are left in their library. This can be done by reusing the Zenith as the last card in your deck once you have infinite mana, or it can be done by “forking” the Stroke or Zenith via Sigil Tracer, anywhere from one to a million times. They can also be combined with Lab Maniac to end the game in one shot.
The addition of Laboratory Maniac to the mix is the real highlight for Azami – it makes up for the loss of the previous powerhouse banned cards by allowing you to win from any position, with no regard for the opponents’ board state or library size. Because your easiest combo to assemble (Azami, Lady of Scrolls and Mind over Matter) draws your entire library, it’s academic to find the Laboratory Maniac and toss it into play while also satisfying its victory condition. Being a wizard, and thus allowing you to tap it to draw a card in the mid-game when you’re looking for gas, makes it synergistic to include anyway – and also allows you to find it when you need it by Wizardcycling a Vedalken Aethermage.
Side note on Aethermage – I’ve never been more excited to have this guy in my deck than I am today. It seems like a garbage card, but the first time he’s in your hand when you try to cast Azami into a Hinder, and you’ll be thanking me for adding him into the mix. He also bounces Sliver Queen, for what its worth.
Just like Aethermage and Lab Maniac, each of the wizards in the deck is chosen for a particular function – although each draw cards particularly well, I’ve avoided playing wizards simply for the sake of them being wizards.
There are a multitude of options within both the Wizard tribe as well as possible combos which have been left out of the list. While I’m open to the idea of toying with the deck, and often do, some of the combos I personally find distasteful or just don’t favor, while others have simply fallen out of favor for me. On the other hand, there are many creatures which I have chosen not to include where others do, I’ll explain those as well.
Venser, Shaper Savant – He doesn’t actually do anything that Snap, Snapback, or Repeal don’t already do, and even as a 4 mana Time Walk, he just seems underpowered. Four mana is a lot, and he hasn’t impressed me much.
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir – Possibly one of the most questionable exclusions, he does allow you to play solitaire, but that’s what your goal is anyway. I’ve found that the five mana is a lot to ask for, because I play the deck as more of a tap-out combo deck than a “wait and see what happens” style. Generally, unless I fear a lethal attack, I draw as many cards as possible on my own turn, leaving my men and my lands tapped out. Teferi makes this strategy awkward.
Vendilion Clique – Another good wizard and potential combo piece, I’m simply not a fan of the card in a multiplayer format. This parallels with the “Clique you, Tunnel Vision” combo, but this is one of the combos I was referring to that I find distasteful. Much for the same reason, I rarely go for the Mind over Matter kill when other options are available – it seems to simple to be fun for anyone (yes, I recognize the inherent hypocrisy in that statement).
Temporal Adept – Much like Venser, it doesn’t do enough to warrant the inclusion.
Sower of Temptation – While stealing an opposing General is cool and all, it’s not really a very good card (or use of mana in a combo deck).
Glen Elendra Archmage – I won’t even lie. My foil one was in the Intet deck that disappeared, and I haven’t replaced it. It’s worth the slot, for sure.
Caged Sun/Gauntlet of Power/Extraplanar Lens – I’ve played with these in the deck before, as permanent High Tides, but was unimpressed with them, especially after Tinker got the axe. Getting your Lens killed is a setback that’s actually quite difficult to recover from, and the others are a lot of mana for a spell that you must untap to take advantage of. While I don’t hate this as an option, I’m not currently playing them.
Time Stretch/Time Warp/Temporal Manipulation/Capture of Jingzhou – These fit into the category of distaste, although only in terms of this deck. I must say, casting an Azami into a time walk effect is brutal, but it’s also overkill. I wouldn’t fault anyone for playing these spells, but choose not to. They are an excellent way to take more advantage of Mind’s Desire.
Power Artifact – One of the cards that goes in and out of the deck depending on how I feel. Right now, I’ve excluded it, but it absolutely deserves a slot if you’re in a high-power environment. Another way to go infinite with a multitude of cards, as well as generally useful on a Memnarch. If you’re planning to add it, consider Basalt Monolith, as well.
These cards are ones I’m considering, but have not tested yet to determine if they’re strong or terrible.
Training Grounds – I list this one separately, because I’m relatively convinced that it’s actually insane, and I’m being silly for not running it. I get the feeling that a Training Grounds in play with a Filigree Sages, a Memnarch, or an Azure Mage – not to mention a few of the guys I’m considering above – would open the game up in a major way. Of course, much like Skill Borrower, sometimes it’s a flat dud. I haven’t had the opportunity to test it out yet, but it seems promising.
This deck is my original EDH love affair. It’s the first 100 card singleton deck I ever picked up, and it has everything to do with why I enjoy this format – whether it be slanted competitive or casual. It’s incredibly powerful, resilient, and totally beatable (which is important for a casual format like Commander). If you are the kind of player who enjoys drawing a million cards, and doesn’t mind going infinite, this is an excellent and rewarding choice. Enjoy!