Hey guys, I thought I’d try something a little new this week. Today I’ll be doing a ‘Deck Tech’ for my Lyra Dawnbringer Mono-White Reanimator deck. “Mono-white Reanimator?!” you exclaim, wondering if it’s possible without dipping into black mana. Well, let me let you in on one of the best-kept secrets of the EDH colour pie.
Laying the Foundations
The idea came about when I was sorting cards into my EDH binders – I have a couple of gift boxes full of my Commander archives, and a couple of binders containing the more exciting stuff that I often flick through when I’m looking for ideas (side note – why did they discontinue gift boxes? They were the best).
At the time, I was lamenting the fact that I couldn’t run many of the Angels I’d collected in my Aurelia, the Warleader deck, as there just wasn’t enough room for them all with the deck being primarily a Voltron/equipment-focused build. One of my first Commander decks was an Angel tribal deck, and as you’ll know, your first deck usually has a hold on you. With that, I decided to try a different kind of Angel deck. Lyra Dawnbringer immediately stuck out to me for two reasons. The first is obvious: she has an ability which buffs other Angel creatures. The second reason was that I wanted to set myself a challenge and build a Mono-white deck. Mono-white decks are often not the easiest deck to build, as they lack card advantage and are worse-off in this regard than Boros without access to the impulsive card draw available in Red.
A quick note before we go further – each playgroup plays at a particular power level, and so this deck is by no means designed to sit at the top end of the scale (which, for clarity, we’ll refer to as a scale from 1-10). I’ve aimed to hit the 6-7 range with this deck, and so, while it definitely has the ability to close out games, it doesn’t really break through the ceiling of ‘Focused.’ This is mostly due to our focus being shifted towards staying on-theme where possible. There are more powerful cards I could and should be playing if I wanted to hit a more ‘Optimised’ level (7-9), such as Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, Luminate Primordial, Aura of Silence, Felidar Sovereign, and Archangel Avacyn, a card I actually ran out of paper copies of! I like to have an arsenal of decks of varying power levels to sit down and play so that I can always slot into a playgroup without making people feel bad – Commander is, after all, about having fun. I’d probably argue that if you’re wanting to be the Spike and combo out before turn 4 you should be playing Modern or Legacy, but you know, you do you.
Once I’d formed a shortlist of cards, which usually includes anywhere from 70-110 cards, I could then see if any synergies jumped out at me as being especially common or powerful among the list I’d created. In this case, the main synergies among my card pool were Angel synergies, life gain, reanimation, tokens, and enchantments. Cards that didn’t make the final cut included Serra Ascendant (I decided it was too aggressive for this build, a deckbuilding choice which could be discussed in an article all on its own), Divine Visitation (there weren’t enough naturally-occurring non-angel tokens in the deck to justify its inclusion without vastly changing the deck’s creature base), and Reya Dawnbringer and Adarkar Valkyrie; two solid reanimation cards that just don’t tend to survive long enough to provide any value – I like my creatures to at least replace themselves, which other cards like Emeria Shepherd can do immediately (if you play it before your land drop for the turn).
The main strategy of this deck is to win through sustained and brutal aerial attack. Lyra is a powerful card to drop on turn five, and also provides an anthem to any other angels you’ve already deployed. The deck can play the long game well through its various methods of reanimating threats and by maintaining the pressure using token generation. It also uses Aetherflux Reservoir as an alternative win condition.
Let’s now look at the various recurring themes in the deck in more detail. As you can see above, I’m using the wonderful tappedout.net embed tool. As you’re reading through this article, feel free to use the dropdown menu to change how the decklist is sorted. I recommend using the ‘keyword’ tab to help contextualise some of my comments later on.
One of the main themes of the deck is Lifelink. More than just a way to pad out our life total, we’re also using life gain to provide us with other types of value. We have a reliable and obvious way to gain life through combat with our general, and some of our other Angels can also contribute; Archangel of Thune, Baneslayer Angel, Gisela, the Broken Blade, and Angelic Skirmisher are each powerful Lifelink-ing creatures in their own right. Aside from creature-based life gain, we’re also running Aetherflux Reservoir, Seraph Sanctuary, High Market, Sword of Light and Shadow, Fumigate, and Authority of the Consuls to provide us with more incidental life gain, which is important when trying to activate our payoff cards.
The major payoffs, aside from Aetherflux Reservoir, are Angelic Accord and Resplendent Angel. These let us continually add extra flying threats to the board – 4/4 flyers can be very strong, and when they have vigilance from Resplendent Angel or +1/+1 and Lifelink from Lyra, they can have a huge impact on the game. Even if we never get to play these payoff cards, the extra life gain is a great buffer to our life total, allowing us to be aggressive with our attacks without fear of being taken out in short order on the backswing.
We have some other token producers in the deck, too. Oketra’s Monument and Dawn of Hope are both ways to develop our board through token production, although they are mainly being included for their other beneficial effects.
One of my favourite aspects of Commander as a format is playing ‘less good’ cards and finding a home for them. It’s fun to play a card like Angelic Accord and actually get some value out of it. Another card which finds a perfect home in this deck is Alhammarret’s Archive. Usually, I tend to avoid playing too many ‘do nothing’ cards in my decks, but every deck can afford to play a few, and the reward for playing the Archive in this deck is huge. Doubling our life gain means that by simply playing an Angel with Seraph Sanctuary and Aetherflux Reservoir on the field, we gain 4 life which then activates Angelic Accord. It also means our opponent has to play very few creatures to allow our Authority of the Consuls to trigger the accord, and ultimately allows us to have more than one activation of our quite operational battlestation.
The Archive also allows us to draw extra cards. Drawing cards in White is very difficult, and so we need all of the help we can get. Doubling up on the cards we draw from being the Monarch (which is facilitated by Throne of the High City & Palace Jailer), Mind’s Eye, The Immortal Sun, Mikokoro, Center of the Sea, Geier Reach Sanitarium, Solemn Simulacrum, and Endless Atlas is very good for us.
It gets even better when you consider the strongest element of our card draw package: Mask of Memory, which not only enables our reanimation strategy, but, with the Archive on the field, draws us four cards. Skullclamp becomes more broken than it was ever meant to be, and our Culling Dais also nets us more value than ever before.
Perhaps our strongest card draw engine, though, is Well of Lost Dreams. With the ability to gain five life per turn available in the Command Zone, the Well becomes a very effective draw engine. This will get blown up, but for those times when it survives for one or two turns, it’s so worth it. Even if you only get one activation, this card is fantastic in this deck.
Skullclamp is most effective in combination with X/1 creatures of course, which, rather conveniently, both Dawn of Hope and Oketra’s Monument can produce. Dawn of Hope should trigger often enough without needing the soldier tokens, and the cost reduction the Monument offers is a great way to accelerate our casting of big angels.
Whenever I assess whether a creature deserves a place in a deck, I will look at what it brings to the table beyond simply being a beatstick. Sometimes being a beatstick is what you need – for that reason, Akroma, Angel of Wrath finds a home in this deck, as does Angelic Skirmisher (one of my favourite underrated angels). Other than that, my Angels tend to fall into one of the following categories: life gain, recursion, or removal. We’ve already looked at life gain, and we’ll look at the other two in due course. The only real exceptions to this are Platinum Angel, which provides a nice safety net, and Indomitable Archangel, which protects all of our Artifacts from our opponent’s meddling.
We also have one massive must-answer threat we can hope to get online in the form of Brisela, Voice of Nightmares. It doesn’t happen often, but with the ability to shut our opponents off from spells costing three Mana or less, this thing can be brutal.
The main strength of this deck is, of course, its recursion. When playing a creature-based strategy, having recursion or ways to insure yourself against removal is key, as it’s likely you’ll be annoying players quite readily with your aggressive plays and synergies. Being able to bring back creatures with enters-the-battlefield abilities is even better, and I have accordingly prioritised including a number of these creatures in the deck. Angels which add to our suite of reanimation and recursion effects include Karmic Guide, Bruna, the Fading Light, Dawnbreak Reclaimer, Emeria Shepherd, and Angel of Serenity. Our land base also includes Haunted Fengraf and Emeria, the Sky Ruin, which we can turn on incredibly easily in Mono-White. Emeria Shepherd and Emeria, the Sky Ruin are incredibly powerful in this deck as we naturally play a lot of Plains. Together, they provide a very good way for us to fight through multiple board wipes throughout the course of a game. Sword of the Animist, Burnished Hart, and Boreas Charger all help to get this combo online or trigger it more often than we’d normally be able to later in the game. Sword of Light and Shadow is a little slower, but is still solid as we have flying creatures that can connect with our opponents easily enough.
As far as creature recursion, we are also running Miraculous Recovery, an instant speed trick which can really mess up your opponent’s attacks; Defy Death, a slightly slower version of the same card; Marshal’s Anthem, a late game superstar that you pray doesn’t get countered; Death or Glory, which gives us a Fact or Fiction style effect using our graveyard, allowing us to reanimate a good chunk of creatures for 5 mana; and Angelic Renewal, a one-shot Enchantment that can be used to recur a key creature after it’s destroyed.
One thing you’ll notice immediately about the deck is that it runs a lot of Artifacts and Enchantments which either enable it to capitalise on the life it can gain, draw cards, or in the case of Angelic Renewal, rebuy creatures. As part of my recursion package, I’m running Auramancer, Refurbish, Buried Ruin, Restoration Specialist, and Sun Titan. Sun Titan can loop with Angelic Renewal, but more often we will be bringing back Restoration Specialist for maximum value.
We’ve looked at a number of Enchantments and Artifacts so far, but a few other key ones are Smothering Tithe, which, aside from being a super strong card, combos with Mind’s Eye for free card draw; Expedition Map, which gets us Emeria, the Sky Ruin or any of our other utility lands; Sword of the Animist, which ramps us and helps with our Plains-based synergies; and Swiftfoot Boots and Lightning Greaves, which help protect our key pieces. We run a number of utility creatures in the deck too, including Stoneforge Mystic – it usually doesn’t grab anything super spicy, but with a strong ETB trigger and the ability to tutor for either ramp or card draw in the form of Sword of the Animist & Mask of Memory, it’s a key component. Selfless Spirit and Silverchase Fox can also be brought back with Sun Titan, and provide us with some extra value.
Speaking of Silverchase Fox, we’re running a suite of efficient removal. Path to Exile, Swords to Plowshares, Crush Contraband, and Return to Dust round out our targeted removal spells. Beyond those, I’m a huge fan of recurrable removal, so in addition to Silverchase Fox we also have Palace Jailer, Angel of Serenity, Soul Snare, and Seal of Cleansing, all of which can be recurred from the graveyard. We’re also running Angel of Finality and Remorseful Cleric which allow us to wipe an opponent’s graveyard when neccessary and can be recurred if necessary.
As far as Boardwipes, we have Hour of Revelation for when we are playing more of a control game (having this in our opening and navigating the early turns accordingly is strong); Descend upon the Sinful, which gives us a nice Angel token (most of the time) while getting rid of problematic creatures for good; Mass Calcify, which is often a one-sided wipe; and Fumigate, which can be followed up with Angelic Accord or Resplendent Angel for maximum value. Just like with our single target answers, though, I like to have the option to re-use mass removal, so we’re running both Sunblast Angel and Angel of the Dire Hour.
Strengths & Weaknesses
This deck is pretty good at doing what it wants to do. It can gain chunks of life fairly easily, and is rewarded for doing so with some great payoffs. It bounces back after a board wipe very well, and can hold its own against other creature-based strategies. It can keep combo or control decks in check by hitting them hard and fast, and it has some great reusable removal. With cards like Culling Dais and High Market, you can dodge targeted exile removal or set up plays to reanimate strong enter-the-battlefield cards. As I said, the deck hits hard and can often take an opponent out of the game very quickly. Getting one of our angel token engines or the Emeria engines online is very powerful and can close a game out pretty quickly – many decks can’t deal with the constant deployment of strong flyers, and their next best option of killing you becomes very difficult when you have such a large life total and deterrents like Soul Snare.
The deck struggles when it doesn’t draw the right cards in the right order. This can be a huge problem for Mono-White, and despite padding the deck out with all of the good card draw options I could find, plus card selection in Enlightened Tutor, Stoneforge Mystic, Path of Ancestry, and Scry-lands, it can sometimes fumble, leaving you with a pretty slow game and few early-game options. Sometimes this can be navigated by playing a more controlling role until you can deploy your more powerful late-game cards, but sometimes you’ll just be stuck. The deck can also struggle against graveyard hate – one of the reasons reanimating White cards is good is because they are generally strong, and as such you’ll only really be casting one spell a turn until late in the game. Having a backup plan for combating removal is key, but if you’re playing against the wrong table it can spell doom unless you can shift the focus to someone else.
I stated from the outset that this deck was never meant to be a top-tier build – I love playing tribal or other ‘focused’ decks, particularly ones that forgo some of the bigger format staples to play more unique or iconic cards. I have a Mono-Green Rhonas, the Indomitable deck that eschews cards like Craterhoof Behemoth, Avenger of Zendikar, and Oracle of Mul Daya – it’s designed to be played at a more casual level, and in cutting such powerful cards I can find more room in the deck for unique and interesting spells. It’s an underrated aspect of deckbuilding, and whilst it doesn’t apply to everyone – your shop might all favour stax and combo decks towards the far end of the power scale – I encourage everyone to build a nice spread of decks to be able to enjoy games with the most diverse of tables. You never know who might be a potential new player, and scaring them off with high-level decks is never a good plan.
That doesn’t mean, however, that this deck couldn’t use some upgrades. In writing this piece, I’ve had a few considerations come to mind. Firstly, I think we could probably fit in a little more land destruction for those pesky Scavenger Grounds which really hose this deck. Elixir of Immortality might also be a strong include on that axis. An extra land in general is probably a good idea, though playing Mono-colour means I get mana-screwed far less often than decks playing more than one colour.
I’m also considering the addition of Pull from Eternity, an extremely niche card that really can only fit in this deck – it’d be cool to try it and see if it’s relevant at all, or if it’s simply a dead card more often than not. Being able to pull back Gisela, the Broken Blade and follow it up with Bruna, the Fading Light seems like a great story to tell, and isn’t Commander all about the stories?
If I wanted to increase my win percentage (which is actually quite solid with this deck, I’ll have you know!) then I should probably be playing Serra Ascendant, Avacyn, Angel of Hope, Austere Command, and Linvala, Keeper of Silence. I actually ran out of copies of these cards, as my second and third copies of each are all already in decks, and I think it’s worth bringing up that just because a card is top-tier, that doesn’t mean you have to run it in every deck. I don’t personally like switching cards between decks, so for me, I’d be purchasing these cards again, which isn’t really an option right now.
Like I mentioned above in relation to my Rhonas deck, having to ‘lock in’ on cards for a colour can greatly limit deckbuilding, and so I would say that if your playgroup is at the level where dropping some ‘staples’ to experiment is possible, I’d strongly recommend you try it. It can lead to some really fun games, and can help you better evaluate borderline playable cards before you settle on a final build.
Iona, Shield of Emeria is a no from me, though – it feels horrible to lock somebody out the game, and in Mono-White, it can be as much of a liability as a win condition – imagine somebody cloning or reanimating it!
I really love this deck, and I think that despite the deckbuilding limitations of playing Mono-White, I’ve managed to come up with a solid deck with some great synergies. The deck affects the game in a powerful way and its overall card quality is strong – I’ve managed to win some games I never thought I’d win by grinding things out through board wipe after board wipe.
Even if I didn’t sell you on Mono-White, I hopefully gave you a great read and some insight into how I build my Commander decks. The ‘axis’ approach is a big part of how I build EDH decks, and it’s something I will be covering in my next essay piece centered around the deckbuilding process. Join me again on Monday for another Budget piece – this deck hit $400 so it doesn’t really qualify!
If you liked this piece, please share it with your friends – retweets on Twitter really help a lot. You can find me on there @TheKristenEmily. If you want to jam some games of Commander with me, I’ll be at MagicFest London this month. I’ll be playing the Main Event on Saturday morning, but will be around the venue chilling and playing EDH with the Master of Magics crew and lots of other cool people too. Come say hi!