Welcome back to my Commander series! You may have noticed I’ve been quiet recently – if you’ve missed my content, then I’m grateful for you allowing me a little break – I’ve had a lot on between family stuff and starting a new job. I’ve not been entirely absent from the community, though, and anyone who consumes Commander content recently has probably seen that I was invited to be a part of the Command Zone’s Commander Summit 2019. If you haven’t had a chance yet, you can find the video below. I’m still super stoked I made it onto the thumbnail too! What a great opportunity.
I also got to sit down and chat to PJ, better known on YouTube as Commander Replay. We got to do a deeper dive on the questions we were asked and put the content up in podcast form here and here – Part 3 of Legion’s Initiative episode #1 is coming soon! If you enjoyed it, let us know on Twitter, @TheKristenEmily & @CommanderReplay – we’re kinda excited to try making it a more regular thing.
Anyways, it’s Monday, and this week we’ll be taking a look at Sephara, Sky’s Blade, a new Legendary Creature from Core 2020. Is she a good Commander? How would you build around her? Is she better in the 99? I’ll be looking into what works and what doesn’t, and what might be a trap. Let’s get to it.
Sephara, Sky’s Blade
“Not one, but four in number were the swords of Sephara, wrought to harness the winds. North, South, East, and West her blessings were carried, lifting the indomitable to glory.”
Sephara is a pretty cool magic card. As you know by now, I’m always excited to try out a new Angel, and our twilight princess here is strong. Flying and lifelink is a great starting point, and if you’ve checked out my Lyra Dawnbringer deck tech, you’ll see how many payoffs there can be for lifelink as a subtheme. When looking at her as a Commander, though, it’s the other two abilities that fire up one’s deckbuilding imagination. The first ability is an alternate casting cost and provides her a tonne of utility. Being able to attack with vigilant flyers and then play Sephara for very little mana is nice. One thing to note, however, is that you still have to pay Commander tax on this – if it’s the second time you’re casting her from the Command Zone, you’ll have to pay 2W & tap four untapped flyers, and so on.
The second ability, which gives other flying creatures you control indestructible, is also awesome. We all know how powerful Avacyn, Angel of Hope is, and having more redundancy, despite it only being provided to your flyers, is incredibly potent. So, how would you build her?
The obvious route is to concentrate on creatures with Flying. Angel tribal, to me, is really not her strength, and so in the interests of keeping a manageable curve, I dismissed this notion. White has other ways to play cheaper flyers outside of Angels, like Birds and Spirits, and so Sephara has a tad more utility as a Commander for decks focusing on these creatures if you’re aiming to build a fliers deck.
There are, however, two main problems which may plague a Sephara flyers deck. The first is that, though it might seem attractive to jam as many copies of cards like Spectral Procession and Battle Cry into your deck as possible, you don’t actually want to over-commit to these kinds of effects. In the bigger picture, 1/1 Spirits don’t actually contribute a great deal to winning on their own, and you should never rely on having your Commander in play to be able to win a game. They can also feel like really bad top decks in a lot of situations, which, when playing Mono-White, can be an issue.
Card advantage, then, is the second issue. Playing Mono-White means we are almost forced to jam as many ‘good stuff’ White staples into the deck as we can, or we risk being unable to get off the ground. We need to fill our deck with cards like Sword of the Animist, Land Tax, Mask of Memory, Sun Titan, and Stoneforge Mystic. That’s not to say I wouldn’t leave home without them, more that White doesn’t have the luxury of choosing more thematic cards like other colors do – they don’t exactly have many creatures in tribes that lend themselves to a specific gameplan, such as card advantage or ramp. Instead, they mainly provide answers to our opponent’s problematic permanents.
The route I decided to go down was to play a strong shell of white ‘good stuff’ with a tokens theme. I didn’t limit myself to purely flying tokens, but instead committed to the idea of going wide. I think it’s important to note straight away that I don’t think Sephara can ever be a high-tier Commander. I was expecting to come out of the deckbuilding process with a medium 6 on the scale – focused, but clunky nonetheless.
The average converted mana cost of the deck clocks in at 3.83, and that’s probably around where this deck wants to be – it plays some expensive threats which shift the curve up, less utility creatures than a White/Black deck, and less cantrips/interaction than a White/Blue deck. My main goal with the deck is to play smaller utility creatures that incidentally have flying to advance our gameplan and to get us to the mid-late game as quickly as possible. We want to be in a position where we can hardcast Sephara at least on curve, if not before. I also snuck in a combo that can produce infinite angels, which, if all goes to plan, should be indestructible. It’s not as strong as it could be when combined with cards like Purphoros, God of the Forge, or Zulaport Cutthroat, but we’re Mono-White, and beggars can’t be choosers.
When playing a combo, or indeed a white deck, Enlightened Tutor is always an obvious include. However, I chose not to include it here as I built the deck with a lower target power level in mind, and I didn’t want to overly-rely on just digging for the best cards available to us without raising the deck’s power level. Otherwise, I’d probably cut Field of Souls for it.
Finale of Glory didn’t make the cut either, as, though it has served me well in Lyra, it doesn’t quite do enough here. The deck doesn’t have quite the same stamina as Lyra to get to the late game, and as such I don’t see myself ever casting it for less than the ‘kicker’ and being happy about it.
Descend upon the Sinful and Kirtar’s Wrath, whilst cute in that they leave behind flying tokens, ultimately didn’t make it in – Delirium and Threshold aren’t conditions the deck can meet consistently. Brave the Sands and Jazal Goldmane, obvious payoffs for going wide with tokens, didn’t quite do enough, and Kindred Boon, while a great way to keep Sephara alive and kicking, was again just not quite as flexible as Hammer of Nazahn. Luminarch Ascension was a card under heavy consideration, and had I built a little more of an enchantment sub-theme into the deck, I might have tried it. Ultimately I don’t think we can support such a package – cards like Dawn Charm don’t have an obvious place in the deck, and I’d rather run Shelter for the card draw, or in this case, Brave the Elements to allow us to potentially make our board unblockable.
The goal here is to amass a huge board and be able to attack with it unimpeded. We will likely be able to kill 1-2 players with Commander Damage per game if we play our cards right, but generally, at least 2 of our opponents will have to die to combat damage from our board. To that end, I decided that, rather than play big beatsticks, I’d concentrate on getting tokens produced alongside our small flyers and limited quantity of threats so that we can still kill a player without relying on our Commander. Besides which, we have smaller beatsticks, like Serra Ascendant!
We can get a lot of tokens onto the board quickly with cards like Emeria Angel, Oketra’s Monument, God-Eternal Oketra, Thopter Assembly, Increasing Devotion, and both Elspeth Planeswalkers. Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, Increasing Devotion, and Memorial to Glory are all very strong with Divine Visitation out, and Thopter Assembly is a one-card way to reduce Sephara’s casting cost.
Our creatures will die, so including Requiem Angel and Field of Souls ensures that, should a board wipe happen, we’re equipped to slam Sephara immediately after. Spirit Bonds is a great card too, giving us bonus tokens to go along with our creature spells and the added bonus of using them as insurance to keep our bigger threats like Sun Titan, Elesh Norn, and Sephara alive.
As far as token-producing spells, I’ve only really gone for Benevolent Offering and Midnight Haunting here. The former is solid, gaining us a good chunk of life and 3 spirits toward casting Sephara at instant speed. I chose the latter based on it having instant speed too. You could easily argue that Battle Screech is better due to it having flashback, but I chose the Spirit Bond synergy and cheaper spell over the ability to cast it a second time.
We’re also running a fun ‘payoff’ card. The deck is tuned around lots of creature tokens, and lots of flyers, so I decided to play Devout Invocation, which can generate a bunch of 4/4 Angels. It’s big and splashy and fun, and I always like to play 1-2 cards like this in EDH decks, as the format is about fun to a lot of us. But, you know… not too much fun. We still want to win some games! Speaking of payoffs, we’re also running Akroma’s Memorial. Besides giving our whole team flying (and by extension, indestructible!) this is a solid way to end a game, and between it and Brave the Elements, you should be able to bypass one opponent completely and stop them from blocking at all.
We can also combo out if we draw the right cards and make an army of Angels. It’s not reliable, but it’s a nice thing to have in one’s back pocket.
It’s interesting to note that one approach to building the deck that I discussed with @CommanderReplay, and that I’ve seen work, is an approach that essentially ignores the multiple flyers route and aims to give value creatures flying so that they benefit from Sephara’s buff. In essence, putting a Kitesail on your Sun Titan. This is a great strategy too, and one that manages to draw out a little bit more potential from the deck.
Protect the Queen
Sephara is a pretty strong card, and as such, we want her on out on the field as soon and as often as we can. Besides Spirit Bonds, though, we do need to play other ways to protect our investments. One way we can do that is by spreading the love and giving indestructible to Sephara herself. Sephara and Aegis Angel are a great tag team, giving each another indestructible, and Deathless Angel does a pretty good Aegis Angel impression too, albeit being spread out over multiple turns. Bastion Protector gives Sephara a +2/+2 buff, too, and with just a little more help she can dispatch opponents in two hits. Selfless Spirit is another panic button, and Hammer of Nazahn can shave off the equip costs of our other equipments. Rounding out our protection package is Swiftfoot Boots and Brave the Elements, the latter of which allows us to be creative with our blocks and attacks too. Avacyn, Angel of Hope is a shoe-in, and can definitely go in the deck if you have one to spare, though I’d want at least 1-2 more lands in the deck if that was the plan.
Card draw is important, so I’ve tried to jam in as much as possible. Endless Atlas is an obvious include with the deck being mono-coloured. We’re also playing Ugin, the Ineffable, which produces spirits that are perfect Spirit Bond targets and allows us to remove things, much like Palace Jailer. Mask of Memory, Sword of Fire and Ice, and Skullclamp are all great, and we can take to the skies with Smuggler’s Copter and Skyscanner, both of which can help us cast Sephara. We also run Mentor of the Meek, which should trigger a decent amount of the time, and both Stoneforge Mystic and Recruiter of the Guard, who help us grab what we need, be it draw, ramp, or removal. In the landbase we’re playing all 3 White cycle lands, plus Arch of Orazca, Geier Reach Sanitarium, and Mikokoro, Center of the Sea. The Immortal Sun and Solemn Simulacrum bridge the gap between our draw and ramp enablers.
Much like Skyscanner, Pilgrim’s Eye is perfect for this deck as it helps us cast our Commander and is a target for both Reveillark and Vesperlark. Sword of the Animist, Burnished Hart, and Boreas charger also help us get lands into play, whilst cards like Smothering Tithe and Oketra’s Monument let us play ahead of where we are. Ancient Tomb, Sol Ring, Thran Dynamo, and Ashnod’s Altar all let us accelerate our mana, and Caged Sun is a great curve topper – like The Immortal Sun, it buffs our army, but this also lets us double our mana too. Land tax rounds things out by helping us naturally hit our land drops.
No deck is complete without removal. As much as possible, I like removal to contribute to our overall gameplan, and so cards like Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, and Spear of Heliod are great includes – they buff or bolster our army while also removing our opponent’s creatures. In terms of more focused creature-based removal, we’re running the usual White suite of Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile, with Palace Jailer offering a little more where that came from. Hanged Executioner is nice here, as we get two bodies which go towards cheating out Sephara. In terms of non-creature removal, we have Ugin, the Ineffable, Return to Dust, Wispmare, and Generous Gift, a card that can answer pretty much anything.
As far as board wipes, I would never leave home without Austere Command and Cleansing Nova. Divine Reckoning is fun, though – it has Flashback, meaning we can get two goes with it, but more importantly, the text reads such that we can choose to not destroy Sephara, and then our flyers survive!
Given we’re in White, we at least get to re-use a lot of our cards, provided we play the right enablers. Between Reveillark and Vesperlark, we can bring back a lot of our value low-drops, and staples like Sun Titan, Emeria Shepherd, and Emeria, the Sky Ruin give us some real staying power. Karmic Guide can obviously fit here too, but honestly? I ran out. The perils of playing a lot of White decks! Being able to recur cards like Skyscanner and Pilgrim’s Eye can really help you keep up with the other decks at the table.
The deck is capable of some really strong openers. If you can hit repeatable card draw and some ramp early game, you can establish a good footing. Cards like Thran Dynamo help power out Sephara ahead of curve and start the beatdown before our opponents have time to react. Your token army can grow surprisingly quickly, especially if you have Oketra’s Monument or Oketra herself in play, and our removal suite is efficiently costed and versatile.
The deck is definitely fun, too, which decks around this sort of power level need to be. Being able to cast Sephara for her alternate cost is satisfying, and with the amount of insurance the deck runs to mitigate the damage done by board wipes, like Field of Souls, you can bounce back extremely fast. In summary, I guess the deck is capable of big tempo swings, but suffers from a lack of draw and ramp – nothing out of the ordinary for a Mono-White deck. Sometimes you can be stuck topdecking lands or ineffectual cards and struggle to hold on to a lead.
As far as cards to add or remove, I’d say that adding Avacyn, Angel of Hope, Teferi’s Protection, Karmic Guide, and Enlightened Tutor is a good place to start, though that would bring the budget up a little. At that point, too, the deck starts to move away from its theme and lean more into ‘Good Stuff’…
Is Sephara a good Commander?
In short, no. If you’re playing a ‘Good Stuff’ white deck, there are much better Commanders.
Therein lies the issue, really. She seems to be a jack of all trades, and master of none. Sometimes this is a good thing – being versatile is often better than being specific in Magic, which can be well-illustrated by the utility provided by modal spells. Unfortunately for Sephara, though, what she attempts to do she just doesn’t do very well compared to the other available options. The alternate casting cost is throwaway text in Mono-White, as if you’re building toward it, you’re not going to have an outstanding token deck. Most token production in White is ground-based, and, without access to other colours, you lack the typical ‘Aristocrat’ payoffs – you’d need to add Green or Black to really push that side of things, and there are already some super strong Selesnya and Orzhov tokens builds which would function far more effectively.
Along that vein, having her lead a flying army is also sub-par, especially in Mono-White. Her high casting cost means that she will struggle to perform as well as Lyra Dawnbringer, who can lean more into lifelink and lifelink payoffs than Sephara can, and without access to Red, the deck isn’t as fast as it needs to be. If we’re talking Indestructible, Avacyn, Angel of Hope is a much better plan, and can build toward more focused and consistently repeatable strategies to abuse that effect.
So, where does that leave Sephara?
Well, honestly, she’s a rather excellent card to have in the 99. In fact, I’ll be jamming her straight into the Iona-shaped hole in Aurelia, the Warleader, and she’ll put in some real work in Lyra Dawnbringer. I’ll also be putting her into my Geist of Saint Traft spirit tribal deck which can really easily cast her for her alternate cost. She offers strong protection for your creatures and can swing for a mighty chunk herself.
In short, Sephara is a really cool card, with some fantastic artwork, but ultimately one that will never truly do a good job of leading my armies. I’d almost always rather play something else if I was wanting to consistently win games, and if you’re leaning toward building Sephara, I’d consider asking yourself what you’re trying to do – chances are, another deck does it better. I do think she’s a strong magic card, though, and one I’d be happy to play in most decks that run a lot of flying creatures.
That’s all for today – I hope you enjoyed this deep dive into the new Angel Commander from Core 2020. I think she’s fine at lower power levels but not quite good enough for the average LGS table. To contextualise a little, I recently took Lyra Dawnbringer out versus a table of Sisay, Weatherlight Captain, Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle, and Zacama, Primal Calamity. I navigated the 3 hour game really well, and, despite all of my expectations, won the game with a rather poetic Finale of Glory with Sephara on the table. Lyra was almost certainly the underdog at the table, but I can say for sure that even with my experience, game-planning, and politics, a Sephara deck wouldn’t have stood a chance at that table, even if it was tuned to the max.
Let me know what you think on Twitter – @TheKristenEmily . This was a fun deck to brew and test, and I still think it has some room for some fine tuning.
I’ll catch you again soon,