Powering Obscurity - Celestial Kirin Stax

Feature Article from Cassidy Silver
Cassidy Silver
8/5/2011 9:27:00 AM
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Hey everyone, Cassidy here to bring you a weekend's worth of Commander to discuss and critique. Last week I wrote about a powerful commander, Omnath, and switched up his strategy to one that involves playing into the table's expectations and threat assessment.

This week I will compliment the article on Omnath by giving a lot of power to a normally obscure and ‘weak' commander, Celestial Kirin. Part weird block mechanic, part flying My Little Pony of DOOM, Celestial Kirin is laughable as a commander at first glance, if you even notice it is Legendary in the first place.

So why build with the magic horsey (of DOOM) at all?

Firstly, on a recent Commandercast episode, Andy and crew outlined the basics of a Kirin deck in an effort to spread the word about lesser known commanders. I have an Eight-and-a-Half Tails Jail Beats deck that has run its course and as of lately I have been largely uninspired by Mono-White in general. I jumped at the chance to build something interesting and *gasp* potentially powerful and emailed Andy right away about my intentions to take up the challenge of building Kirin.

As Barney Stinson would say, “Challenge Accepted!”

I love the idea of building with a lesser known commander; in my experience, the table takes it easy on the commanders who are unknown or seemingly under-powered. In researching the deck, comments from the echelons of the community echoed my sentiments and would likewise be impressed by a Celestial Kirin deck.

I will rely on Kirin's novelty to get the deck through tough times, and what the heck, I will try to abuse it. I am going to pair the most obnoxious Mono-White tactic with the Miyazaki film reject- deck, I dub thee ‘Celestial Stax.”

Celestial Stax AKA My Little Pony of DOOM -

Celestial Stax CMDR by WriterofWrong
Main Deck
1 Aven Mindcensor
1 Eight-and-a-Half-Tails
1 Eternal Dragon
1 Grand Abolisher
1 Hokori, Dust Drinker
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
1 Karmic Guide
1 Kataki, War's Wage
1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
1 Magus of the Tabernacle
1 Mother of Runes
1 Nikko-Onna
1 Peacekeeper
1 Reveillark
1 Serra Ascendant
1 Spelltithe Enforcer
1 Spirit en-Dal
1 Sun Titan
1 Weathered Wayfarer
1 Windborn Muse
1 World Queller
1 Yosei, the Morning Star
Creatures [22]
1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Planeswalkers [1]
1 Armageddon
1 Austere Command
1 Caged Sun
1 Candles' Glow
1 Cataclysm
1 Catastrophe
1 Chalice of the Void
1 Charge Across the Araba
1 Condemn
1 Crackdown
1 Crib Swap
1 Crucible of Worlds
1 Darksteel Ingot
1 Darksteel Plate
1 Enlightened Tutor
1 Erratic Portal
1 Expedition Map
1 Gauntlet of Power
1 Ghostly Prison
1 Land Tax
1 Marshal's Anthem
1 Mindslaver
1 Oblation
1 Otherworldly Journey
1 Path to Exile
1 Phyrexian Processor
1 Portcullis
1 Relic of Progenitus
1 Seer's Sundial
1 Sensei's Divining Top
1 Shields of Velis Vel
1 Shining Shoal
1 Sigil of the New Dawn
1 Smokestack
1 Sol Ring
1 Swords to Plowshares
1 Tormod's Crypt
1 Ward of Bones
1 Winter Orb
Spells [39]
1 Arid Mesa
1 Buried Ruin
1 Darksteel Citadel
1 Dust Bowl
1 Eiganjo Castle
1 Emeria, the Sky Ruin
1 Flagstones of Trokair
1 Flooded Strand
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Kor Haven
1 Marsh Flats
1 Mistveil Plains
21 Plains (230)
1 Strip Mine
1 Tectonic Edge
1 Wasteland
1 Windswept Heath
Lands [37]
Deck Total [99]

1 Celestial Kirin
Sideboard [1]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

‘Mono-White Stax' is a term for a type of deck from Legacy that makes use of Smokestack type effects combined with prison tactics, and the build actually translates decently to Commander. I think it is important to note that this is not my only deck, and it will only be played once or twice so that the novelty doesn't wear off so fast.

To survive the early game, Stax typically employs lock-down effects to either Redirect aggression or shut down important cards. I will use the Peacekeeper, Ghostly Prison, and Windborn Muse to the first goal, while Linvala, Keeper of Silence, Grand Abolisher, Aven Mindcensor and Crackdown will serve the second. Iona, Shield of Emeria cap of the prison tactic and will double as a win condition.

Celestial Kirin itself will help a bit early game to control the board. Notice I didn't go crazy with the Arcane, Spirit, or Changeling cards in the build. I really only kept the Instant speed Arcane spells in the build, since a fast sweep with Kirin in play is ideal, and the Spirits I chose are of high utility; Shining Shoal is the best of these spells, though Charge Across Araba and Otherworldly Journey have both proven to be extremely useful.

I tried to cover the whole spread of CMC's for Kirin's ability, heavy on the lower curve to match the curve in my meta. To control collateral damage, I won't want to play the Kirin to early; for instance, Windborn Muse will cause a blowout if cast while Kirin is in play.

Since I will be wary of any four mana cards that trigger Kirin, I am going to give non-Spirit permanents with four CMC, such as Elspeth, Knight-Errant, Phyrexian Processor, and Erratic Portal, priority over other cards that may be slightly more effective but at more vulnerable casting costs. Erratic Portal is particularly good for saving any creatures swept up in Kirin's fury and M'Lady Elspeth's Emblem will really give Kirin something to work with. The Phyrexian Processor is interesting because the token creature it creates will be immune from Kirin's board sweeping ability, as none of the triggering card types have a CMC of zero; Chalice of the Void will have similar protection from Kirin. Luckily, many of the best Stax cards are in the safe zone, including Portculis and even Smokestack itself.

Once the deck stabilizes mid game (or if it dominated the early game), Stax begins a war of attrition with effects that force players to sacrifice their own permanents while locking out their mana bases. Smokestack and World Queller will force unconditional sacrifices, while Kataki, War's Wage (Spirit), Magus of the Tabernacle (4 CMC), and Spelltithe Enforcer will require mana investments to keep cards in play.

This leads to the next part of the mid game stratagem for this build; mana denial. The attrition strategy's effectiveness is magnified by cards like Hokori, Dust Drinker (4 CMC Spirit), Winter Orb, and Yosei, the Morning Star (also a spirit). Of course, I can just cast Armageddon or Catastrophe to completely destroy all lands in play, a particularly great option if Spelltithe Enforcer is in play, though it might be a bad idea if the Magus of the Tabernacle is in play.

In fact, many of the attrition cards in Stax can Backfire on me at any moment, and interestingly enough, Celestial Kirin plugs up this weakness pretty well. Say for instance, that I absolutely need to get rid of my Winter Orb because my opponent plays a Seedborn Muse and I have no answers available to it. If I play Otherworldly Journey or Candles' Glow (what's up with that art?) with Kirin in play, I can destroy the Winter Orb at instant speed.

Sweeping the entire board without a way to end it the game is a good way to drag out a game that might have been good, and from a tactical standpoint it gives your opponents time to Recoup. Once your opponents' ability to actually play the game has been taken from them, it really only takes a good beater to end the game; Iona, Yosei, Sun Titan, and the Eternal Dragon all bring the beats. Portculis and Ward of Bones will ensure that any resistance is futile by locking out permanents.

The Lands I decided to run go very well with the Crucible of Worlds, an extremely powerful artifact that is easy to take advantage of. The package includes a full compliment of fetch lands – Arid Mesa, Flooded Strand, Marsh Flats, and Windswept Heath, that will provide repetitive land drops while thinning the deck. Mana denial lands like Strip Mine, Wasteland, or Dust Bowl also combo extremely well with the Crucible, especially after Armageddon to maintain the lock. I will include a Seer's Sundial to take advantage of the Crucible package, especially since it is on four CMC and will be less likely to get blown up by my commander.

 Crucible of Worlds
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With M12, I got a new interaction with Crucible of Worlds in Buried Ruins. The combination will allow me to recur powerful artifacts, namely Mindslaver. Probably the most obnoxious part of my build, the combo functions as a ‘win button' especially if the game is down to two players (or started that way.)

I have been locked by a Mindslaver more times than I can count, especially against Glissa, the Traitor decks. I know how disheartening a Mindslaver lock can be, but if anyone complains about the tactics I am using, I will simply remind them they are getting beaten by a hornless unicorn. Perhaps I can find some nice little pony toys as consolation for the weak of Spirit.

Graveyard hate is crucial in my metagame, so I included Tormod's Crypt and Relic of Progenitus. Really any green, black, or white deck will have ample technology to abuse their dead cards; my previous example of the Mindslaver lock will fit into any color identity and should provide a good example of why graveyard hate is worth a few lots in the ninety-nine.

As I mentioned, I am not going to play this deck as regularly as some of my others, but I feel a nice grindy battle of attrition is fun every once in a while, and may end up serving an important function if your meta is plagued by other control decks or ramp that are weak to prison and mana denial.

M12 and Commander

The odd thing about the Commander Community is that paying attention to the newest releases is not always as crucial as it is for more competitive formats like Standard and Legacy. Quite often, new cards will drift into play groups gradually after they see play in a few of the local decks. I get many questions about what is good out of M12, especially from one of my metagames that hasn't opened a single pack of it.

To spread the word of M12 through the Commander Community, I devised a ‘best of' list for the set after careful deliberation and less careful gameplay. There are many new cards in the set, but I am going to focus on two for each color plus two colorless and what builds these cards will compliment well.

Starting off with Green –

Number 1: Garruk, Primal Hunter. Maybe he is an obvious choice, but as my favorite of the new cards I am going to go out on a limb and say he is pretty good. He fits into any Green builds up to Five-Color, but I feel he is best in builds with big Commanders like Kresh, the Bloodbraided. As I mentioned in my last article on Omnath, Garruk is an easy way to draw a bunch of cards. Don't forget to combo him with Doubling Season for a quick way to an army of Wurm tokens.

Number 2: Hunter's Insight. Keeping with the card advantage theme, Hunter's Insight is actually a very interesting piece of Green tech. Green is not well known for their good Instant speed spells (Beast Within and Krosan Grip aside) so this card will really catch an opponent off guard. This is particularly true in Commander, as the higher life totals will lead opponents to let bigger creatures through if they are stable enough.

White –

Number 1: Grand Abolisher. This is a very important tool to a Mono-White player in that it prevents any of our cards from being countered or destroyed during our own turn. The Abolisher comes in a classic WW 2/2 format which I am a sucker for, but is nonetheless pretty vulnerable, and will probably be best in Mono-White decks or multicolored decks with protection for creatures like Asceticism in a GW build.

Blue –

Number 1: Mind Unbound. This card is a great card-draw engine, and as an enchantment is one of the toughest permanents to kill. This card goes well in pretty much any color identity with blue in it. I put one in my Damia, Sage of Mill Stone deck and have been extremely happy.

Number 2: Sphinx of Ulthuun. A Fact or Fiction on a flying beater for 5UU sounds good to me. This card is especially abusable in builds that reuse or copy their creatures, like Riku of Two Reflections, though any blue deck will make a great home for it.

Black –

Number 1: Rune-Scarred Demon. Much like the Sphinx of Ulthuun, Rune-Scarred Demon puts a classic effect on a reasonably costed flyer. Black is the best color for reusing their creatures, and this bad boy will often tutor up whatever you may need; for instance, in Ghave, I will often use the Demon's ability to find a Mimic Vat or Cauldron of Souls so I can use the effect multiple times.

Number 2: Monomania. This card has been clutch so many times in my Damia deck after a big Prosperity, and is good backup for Cabal Conditioning. In general, this is a good answer to Reliquary Tower or Praetor's Counsel type shenanigans which are rampant in my metagame. Some of my opponents (and myself too, of course) can easily get hand sizes in excess of thirty cards, in which case Monomania is devastating.

Red –

Number 1: Chandra, the Firebrand. Another obvious choice for the number one slot, Chandra is amazing in Commander because of her Fork effect. Commander is known for big, splashy spells, and doubling up on some of them is a sure way to victory. Whether you copy a simple Fireball, Time Stretch in an Izzet build, or Tooth and Nail in a RG variation, Chandra is here to win more!

Number 2: Warstorm Surge. This card eliminates the only thing that held back Pandemonium – your opponents gain no benefit from Warstorm Surge – for the small price of two more colorless mana. Red can really abuse this card, especially in a Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker deck, but it really fits into any deck with Red in it. A friend of mine uses it in his Mayael the Anima build – he hard cast a Blightsteel Colossus into an active Warstorm Surge, causing instant death to target player. Finally, this card is very good with high-powered commanders like Ruhan, the Fomori or Kamahl, Pit Fighter because the commanders deal direct Commander Damage to players.

Colorless –

Number 1: Swiftfoot Boots. These updated Lightning Greaves are quickly taking over the Commander world. With all the equipment and pump effects available, Hexproof is easily better than Shroud, so it is mostly a question of whether the one mana to equip them is worth the extra utility. As for me, I prefer the Boots; I like their style.

Number 2: Buried Ruin. As I mentioned above, Buried Ruin combos with cards like Mindslaver and Crucible of Worlds in a way that can be put into any color identity. In general it is a very good card, especially in colors that lack artifact recursion.

Thanks everyone for reading my stuff, and especially to those who are leaving the comments. I am notorious for failing to read cards (the RTFC sleeves on my Ghave deck are there as a reminder) and I sometimes make mistakes with the rules. I started playing back in Ice Age before we even had a stack, so sometimes I get lost in the interactions and forget the subtler aspects of a card's text. Need you guys to keep me in check, especially on the topic of Stax since I am probably missing a few of the nuances to the build.

Next week I am going to double the pleasure with a Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker Commander build and I am going to introduce a new idea for Commander Leagues that is still a WiP. In the Spirit of the format, I am going to take readers' requests for future articles. Any build you guys want to see, leave a comment and I'll get to brewing!

Don't forget to listen to Commandercast this week!

Stay logged for more Commander action, same Magic time, same Magic website, and always remember – winning isn't everything; it is just a prelude to the next game.

See ya'll next week!

Cassidy Silver

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