Few legendary creatures printed recently have the flavor blast that comes attached to Progenitus (the only thing attached to him, mind you) and access to any format-legal card is a significant benefit of running this humongous hydra as your first in command.
The biggest problem with Progenitus as a general – aside from his hefty down payment of 10 colored mana – is his power. I know, I know, 10 is a big number, and not generally something to complain about when it’s attached to a critter beating your opponents’ faces, but under normal circumstances, the big guy still needs to stick around for four turns and get in at the same opponent three times to crack the 21 combat damage win condition, just like any of the original Elder Dragons and any number of other, more versatile generals.
This isn’t to say that Progenitus isn’t EDH material. He has the rare ability to find his way through a Maze of Ith without any problems, and few other plays will make your opponents scramble for their sweepers as frantically as Progenitus. As long as he remains untapped, every ground-pounder on the table without protection from a color will likely find other players to pick on, but you don’t really ever play Progenitus without a clear intent to turn him sideways ASAP. But how does one go about breaking Progenitus? Or, short of breaking him, what can make him at least as viable as any of the other 5-color general options out there?
Let’s start with strategy. Most formats like Standard and Extended have three basic strategies — combo, aggro, and control — and their hybrids upon which deck archetypes like Rock or Five-Color Control are built. In EDH, pure aggro strategies are pretty rare. The simple, linear strategy of “play a bunch of dudes for pretty cheap, turn them sideways, win” can reduce a single opponent from twenty life to zero in short order, but the task of reducing between two and five opponents from forty to zero is daunting to say the least. The closest an EDH deck comes to successfully utilizing an aggro-based strategy is in the context of aggro-combo strategies like accelerating into a turn-three Rafiq of the Many and swinging in with Might of Oaks on turn four for 22 general combat damage, but even that takes out just one opponent. If we’re leading with Progenitus, aggro is out.
Five-color control is a fairly powerful Standard archetype, and there are a dizzying array of cards that can fit this strategy in the EDH-legal card pool, but they ultimately lack cohesion and novelty. To use Progenitus as our general over 5-color critters like Cromat or Scion of the Ur-Dragon, there needs to be some reason that Progenitus is central to the deck. Too often, five-color EDH decks degenerate into piles of 99 good cards and a legendary creature that happens to have all five colors. If you’ve ever seen or built a deck with Karona, False God as your general, you know what these decks look like. They’re characteristically schizophrenic when it comes to synergy and they lack a clear game plan.
To me, Progenitus belongs in a combo deck. Other than Sliver Queen, Sliver Overlord, and Sliver Legion, 5-color generals lend themselves to combo-based win conditions. In a singleton format, a combo is made stronger as its pieces become more interchangeable, and having access to all format-legal cards enables greater redundancy in making the combo work. For instance, if your general is all five colors, having access to Root Maze, Kismet, and Frozen Aether makes it more likely that you’ll be able to make the most of Stasis and Tarnished Citadel than if your general was just blue and your main means of comboing with Stasis was Frozen Aether. But if we’re going to build with Progenitus, it doesn’t really make sense to frustrate the table to death with Stasis or five shades of land destruction. In both flavor and function, Progenitus was built to bash face. So, what would a deck that killed with Progenitus – in combo style – look like? Well, let’s build it.
Here’s the core of my current Progenitus build:
Haste, a slight boost in power, double strike, and extra combat steps seem most likely to kill multiple opponents. Because we have access to all five colors, we should be able to find multiple interchangeable pieces that fit each need. Cards that cover more than one of our bases have high value in this strategy. The list below shows some of the cards that arrive at this goal most efficiently.
Haste / Power Bonus / Double strike/Extra Combat
There are many options for giving Progenitus haste, but each of these four choices is more versatile than something as one-dimensional as Fervor. Also, the likelihood of getting reverse-smashed by hasty opposing critters makes Mass Hysteria and Concordant Crossroads risky choices with comparatively few benefits.
Not much can give Progenitus double strike, so a card with such limited an application as Rage Reflection is at least worth considering. After some testing, I’ve found it too narrow, though. If we run Conspiracy, cards like Kinsbaile Cavalier, Iizuka the Ruthless, Raksha Golden Cub, and Heart Sliver all do the job too. It’s a similar story for Concerted Effort, but both of these strategies have dependency issues that narrow our options more than they expand them and are even less useful than Rage Reflection. Extra combat steps, though, do get the job done.
Next, let’s try to get around the biggest drawback Progenitus has: his mana cost. Since his initial spoiling, combo players in Magic’s sanctioned formats have been scratching their heads, trying to find a way to cheat Progenitus into play through some other means than hard-casting. This is an opportunity for strategies from other formats to inform card choices in EDH.
Dramatic Entrance might work in Standard, but because General Progenitus is removed from the game and not in your hand, it doesn’t work without a way to get Progenitus into your hand like Living Wish or Glittering Wish. Elvish Piper and Quicksilver Amulet have the same story. Other options that have been tried in Extended, Legacy, and Vintage include Natural Order, Defense of the Heart, and Tooth and Nail. While these all require Progenitus in library or in hand, Tooth and Nail is at least somewhat useful, as it can help retrieve other non-Progenitus combo pieces like Flame-Kin Zealot and Rafiq of the Many and do so unconditionally or help recover from an untimely Hallowed Burial or Hinder.
Dream Halls, unrestricted in Vintage a few short months ago, enables you to play Progenitus from its natural habitat in the RFG zone. By allowing not just Progenitus but any card to be played at the cost of a card, Dream Halls can quickly supercede Progenitus as the focal point of the deck. For this reason, draw spells without Xs in their mana costs like Opportunity, Harmonize, and especially Ad Nauseam easily make the cut. Because Dream Halls will often enable this deck to go off, one other card from the table above doesn’t make the cut: Torrent of Souls. Just as Firespout is a really bad Twincast target, Torrent of Souls really doesn’t do much if it’s paid for using Dream Halls‘ alternative cost. The sheer power of Dream Halls makes it deserving of more than one slot in the deck. Because EDH is a singleton format, these “other Dream Halls” are actually cards devoted to finding Dream Halls and getting it into play efficiently: Idyllic Tutor, Enlightened Tutor, and Academy Rector.
On the subject of tutors, few EDH decks run none, and a five-color, combo-centered EDH deck should run many. The obvious choices like Demonic Tutor and Mystical Tutor remain good options, but Conflux is a 5-for-1 tutor that this deck just can’t ignore. So far, our deck has a need for combo pieces that can span all five colors, and Conflux can handily deliver a winning package of those pieces by itself. Where this deck really gets ridiculous is in the abusive relationship Conflux has with Dream Halls. With all five colors at your disposal, Conflux amounts to “tutor once and play any two cards in your deck for free.” Against a single opponent, a “win now” Conflux package looks like this: Rafiq of the Many (green), Fires of Yavimaya (red), Waves of Aggression (white), Voidslime (blue), and Voidslime (black). Discard Voidslime to play Rafiq and Memory Plunder to play Progenitus, or vice versa. Waves of Aggression gets tossed to play Fires. Now Progenitus will have haste and swing for a lethal 22 general damage. With multiple players, the Waves of Aggression can be retraced as needed for a land and a white or red card, though you’re likely to run out of cards quickly.
Regrowth-type effects break Conflux further by allowing you to reuse it in a way that feels like–and comes close to–an infinite combo going off. They come in every color, but some are more useful than others. Ill-Gotten Gains defeats the purpose of keeping a lot of cards in hand, and makes it extremely likely that an opponent will ruin your day. However, there are plenty of decent cards available that span the color spectrum: Relearn, Deja Vu, Anarchist, Naya Charm, Recollect, Eternal Witness, and my favorite, All Sun’s Dawn. Each Regrowth effect rewords Conflux again to say “play any card in your deck, rinse, repeat.” If the first few free spells played are devoted to drawing a more cards, further free spells are easy to come by.
In real games, this deck has performed well, but has still fallen victim to the balanced nature of Dream Halls. With every opponent’ counter turned into a de facto Force of Will and free Naturalizes running rampant, key elements in the combo are often targeted at just the wrong moment.
The primary means by which I’ve counteracted these threats has been to add Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir as the deck’s sixth creature. While I’m usually loath to play Teferi due to his fun-sucker-outer, solitaire-inducing nature, that same ability ensures the security of the combo as it’s going off. So, even if he is an ugly card to play with, he’s usually only in play for the last turn of the game.
Other additions to the deck have included Teferi’s Moat and Painter’s Servant. Because many EDH staple beatsticks fly, this defensive combo is only marginally effective. However, the flexibility enabled by the interaction of Painter’s Servant and Dream Halls is a joy to behold. Lands get tossed for artifacts and colorful spells alike, and opponents scoop pre-emptively to expedite a new game. Burning Wish is in the deck now, too, as a final contingency for graveyard removal or Dissipate aimed at Conflux with the added bonus of retrieving All Sun’s Dawn.
All in all, Progenitus has made for a fun deck that is at the same time novel and surprisingly competitive. What’s the most surprisingly fun general you’ve come across in your EDH wanderings? Let me know about the most fun you’ve had with an out-of-the-box general in the forum.
Until next time, this is Sean Catanese telling you to go call down some thunder.
Sean is a DCI-certified Level 1 Judge and confirmed Elder Dragon Highlander evangelist. He runs FNM and other events for Great Escape Games in Sacramento, CA. He’s on most major forums at planarguide and can be reached at seancatanese-at-gmail-dot-com.