Welcome to the primer for Rhys the Redeemed! This article will (eventually) contain everything there is that can be said about Rhys as a Commander. The goal of this primer is manifold: to explain the philosophy behind Rhys as a Commander, to go over specific card evaluations that can be considered staples of the deck, to describe the different paths to victory that the deck can pursue, and finally a section dedicated to the evolution of the deck. This last section will be continually updated over the life-cycle of this primer with cards from newly released sets and how they can fit into the deck. Thus, it is the hope of the writers of CommandersGathering.com that this article will be a reference for many years to come.
What is it Good For, The Philosophy of Rhys
Rhys is a fairly straightforward Commander, as those things go. His abilities are self-apparent, which make explaining his philosophy somewhat easier than more complex or obscure abilities with limited interactions. That said, the very generality of his abilities is what can make Rhys a surprisingly deep Commander. Well, perhaps deep is not the right word. Rather, let’s just say that Rhys can embrace a huge variety of really great effects. Anyone who has been playing Magic: the Gathering for some time has, almost with a certainty, played with tokens at some point. They are actually a very large part of the game. I cannot say this with absolute authority, but I dare anyone to prove me wrong when I assert that there has not been a set printed in recent years that does not have some kind of token-producing engine. Traditionally, tokens have been associated with tribal effects. As such, some of the most popular types of tokens to create are saprolings, squirrels, and of course, elves.
This brings up an interesting point about Rhys. Can he be considered a tribal Commander? The answer to this question is, of course. That said, it is certainly not the goal of a Rhys deck to be tribal-themed, though people are perfectly entitled to build him that way. Even so, you have to acknowledge that of all of the tribes in MTG, elves do have more support than most (if not the most). As a result, you will often see Rhys paired up with cards that have synergy with Elves. There are actually several obvious reasons for this. For one thing, Rhys himself can act as a producer of elf tokens, and with his second ability he can rapidly create an army of these elves that denies any effort to count them. This is something that is rather unique about Rhys as a Commander in that he can be, in part, self-sufficient. There aren’t that many Commanders that can say that with as much certitude as Rhys. Most Commanders rely on other effects within the deck to make them good. Rhys, on the other hand, can be the only card you play the entire game and still be marginally effective.
Generally speaking, Rhys is an aggro/beatdown Commander. This means that the majority of the time, Rhys decks are winning by doing damage through straightforward attacking. While this seems like a very obvious path to victory, there are some considerations that you have to be aware of. As anyone who plays Commander has surely already realized, board positions are often fluid and can change at any moment. This is what makes Rhys a somewhat difficult Commander to pilot, because the strength of your position as a player often depends on the cards you have on the board, rather than say, the cards you have in hand. This may seem true of all other decks in Magic as a whole, but with Rhys the situation is a bit different. While you can possibly build your Rhys deck to make up for this weakness, most builds of Rhys do not really have that many ways to interact with your opponents. Part of this is simply the colors that Rhys forces you to play: white and green. Neither of these colors is really known for subtlety. White is known for commanding armies, and green is known for overrunning opponents either with insanely large creatures, or with insane amounts of little creatures. As an addendum to this point, Rhys decks rely on creatures to be their toolbox. For this reason, Rhys decks will often feature creatures that have as many ways to interact with the board as possible. This really is the ultimate philosophy behind the Rhys deck. In terms of color-theory, he fits these characterizations perfectly, and often your path to victory will involve creatures. Back to the main point though, Rhys is about building a board presence. Somewhat tragically, this board presence depends on creatures, which are just about the easiest thing to remove, and you can generally anticipate that every deck you come across will have some means of dealing with creatures, and/or some form of mass removal.
Despite this, Rhys can be an amazing Commander. Rhys is truly a trade of equal values: you might lack the ability to interact fully with your opponents, a slight weakness; but in return, you gain the ability to do some very broken and fun things with Rhys that more than makes up for this. The key to the Rhys’ success is his second ability, which allows you to make copies of any tokens on your side of the battlefield. In the context of Rhys by himself, this allows you to make multitudes of elf tokens, which can be quite a boon with tribal effects, global pump spells, or creature-count-based effects. But there is another dimension to Rhys, one that I was hinting at earlier in this section. As previously stated, token effects have been around for a very long time. As I am sure you can imagine, there are quite a few awesome things you can create with tokens. Rhys, in all his wisdom, let’s you create potentially limitless copies of things that the designers of Magic: the Gathering may not have intended to be copied. With certain other effects in the game, you can make a token copy of almost anything. Thus, in terms of sheer customization, you will find that Rhys decks can manifest themselves in almost uncountable variations.
Hopefully this section on Rhys philosophy has opened a few eyes regarding the potential of Rhys as a Commander. If you have any other observations of Rhys as a Commander, please do not hesitate to share them in the comments. Your thoughts may make it into a future iteration of this primer.
Gears and Gizmos, Evaluating the Cards
While the first section of this primer was all theory, here we are going to get into the nuts and bolts. As part of my Rhys the Redeemed deck series I took a stock Rhys list and began to modify it to fit within my experiences playing Commander, and also within my budget. As a result, my evaluations of cards will be based on my experiences playing that deck, and the cards therein. The final section of this primer will discuss other potential adds, but for now we will just stick with the cards in this list:
Rhys the Redeemed Commander Deck
(Updated July 06, 2011, Price Online 93 Tickets)
In order to consolidate these evaluations, and avoid going through all of them one-by-one, they will be organized based on their function in the deck. This way, if you decide to modify the deck (as I hope you will), you will have a better idea of how to organize your replacements.
To keep things short, I will only be discussing those cards that I believe to be essential to any Rhys deck. Some of the cards in this list are there for the fun value, or to test out their suitability. If you would like to see more detailed card evaluations, as well as the evolution of this deck in particular over the course of several weeks, I would advise that you check out my article series on Rhys.
For starters, it is a good idea to have a few means to create tokens that does not involve creature abilities, primarily because it is easier to start over after a board wipe.The above mentioned cards are especially useful in this regard, since they generally remain on the battlefield after most forms of mass removal.
Elspeth Tirel is an obvious addition because she performs three separate, and very useful, functions. She is a token producer herself, which comes in handy. With Rhys’ second ability on first activation, doubling these tokens is good value for only six mana, and it just keeps getting better. Also, she is able to gain life. Depending on the individual deck, it may or may not have a lifegain sub-theme built in. This deck in particular had a number of lifegain cards, but these were gradually weaned out to make more room for token-generators or token-abusers. That said, it is still a good plan of action to keep around a card that can gain you some life. And her final ability is obviously quite beneficial, since it destroys all non-token creatures. This means that Elspeth provides a very effective way for you to send your creatures in for the kill even if your opponents’ boards are clogged up with their own creatures.
Soul Foundry is a wonderful card, because it allows you to create tokens out of cards with effects and abilities that would never normally be copyable. The best of these are cards that have ‘enter the battlefield’ effects, but even so, unlike Mimic Vat, these tokens stick around, so it can be beneficial to copy any number of things.
Luminarch Ascension is a staple of decks playing white. The reason being that because you are facing three other opponents, it only takes one turn around the table for your enchantment to go active. Commander games also typically start out slow, so if you have this card early, you will be in a very good spot. That said, playing Luminarch Ascension will make you a pretty big target, since no one at the table will want you to have it.
Sacred Mesa is important because it offers you a solution to flying creatures, which is something that Rhys decks often have trouble with, since there are not that many ways to produce air-capable tokens. Also, it can act as a mana sink late game, and being an enchantment, it is more difficult to remove.
The creatures in this category are fairly self-explanatory. There are a couple of these in particular, however, that every Rhys deck should run.
Avenger of Zendikar can be a great finisher. There are a few ways for this deck to get land on the battlefield, and so when you finally do drop your Avenger, usually late game, it makes a very respectable army. Furthermore, being able to copy those plant tokens with Rhys makes your position very formidable. Also, any land you drop thereafter only serves to make all of your plants that much bigger.
Mycoloth is just a good card. With Rhys, you’re always going to have some extra tokens on the battlefield. In effect, since he has Devour 2, you are doubling up on any tokens that you sacrifice to Mycoloth as it enters the battlefield. If you have a means to get him to stick around until your next upkeep, you will be looking at an almost certain win.
What is a token deck without some means of taking advantage of all of your copies? You will find that most of the cards in this category can also be classified as your finishers. Many of these cards are what will allow you to ultimately win against your opponents.
Let’s start with the big one: Doubling Season.
Doubling Season is a must for any token deck, and really should be the first card that you add when you begin constructing a list.
Kamahl, Fist of Krosa is another notable, since with enough mana he can create an army on his own (similar in some respects to Rhys, except this army vanishes each turn, but appears at a moments notice). He is also a great win condition, since he has a built-in Overrun ability. Combine this with board-full of small critters, and suddenly your opponents will be staring at eminent death. There is also a fun combo with this card if you happen to have a lot of mana open when your opponent casts a board wipe. Kamahl’s ability allows you to target any land, so when your opponent casts mass removal, you can animate their lands for a one-sided Armageddon.
Most of my wins with this deck have been at the hands of one of these two cards. Typically, you do not play either of these cards until the moment you are going in for the kill, otherwise your game plan is just too apparent.
Mirror Entity is another must-include. In many ways, this is a much better effect than any Overrun, since with enough mana you can make your army huge. This may be another one of those cards you want to hold on to until the perfect moment, since it is a magnet for removal.
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is actually a bit of a toss-up. I would not call this card a staple of the deck, but every time I have played it, it has performed perfectly. Depending on the decks you are playing against, it can act as a one-sided board wipe, and enable your now much beefier creatures to go in for the kill. You can make your own decisions regarding this card, but I for one will be marking it an evergreen card in the deck.
These cards are nearly as important as your win conditions, since they are what actually enable the Rhys deck. You will quickly find that when playing with Rhys, the more mana you have, the more likely you are to win, since the first allows to you play the combos that lead to the second.
Primeval Titan is one of those cards that has been talked about to death since its release in M11. Believe me when I say that it deserves all of the good things that get said about it. This is a must-have card for really any deck that is playing green. Even if your Titan gets removed the second that it is played, it is more than worth it, since often the lands you are fetching up will be doing much more than just acting as two mana.
A few of these next cards can be grouped together: Elvish Archdruid, Wirewood Channeler, Priest of Titania. All of them take advantage of tribal effects, and can produce some very impressive amounts of mana. Priest of Titania is the best of the bunch, since it comes down so much earlier. The Archdruid is quite good also, however, since he also pumps up all of your tokens as well as providing some impressive mana. Speaking of, the Archdruid makes a good target for cards like Soul Foundry.
Next up come your mana amplifiers. These include Mana Reflection, Caged Sun, and Doubling Cube. There’s not much to say about these, except to reiterate that the more mana you can feasibly produce, the better off you are going to be while playing with Rhys, since there are always places to sink this mana.
Any singleton format will want tutors to fetch up specific cards, and Commander is no exception. Luckily, green has a few ways to fetch things from your deck. As mentioned in the philosophy section, Rhys does not have that many interactive spells. That is why all of the creatures in the deck have some sort of ability. In effect, your creatures become your spells.
Fauna Shaman is Survival of the Fittest on a stick, and is fantastic as a result. It can be tutored up, as well as be recurred from the graveyard. It allows you to go through your deck and find the creature you need for any particular situation. Also, it combos quite well with Genesis, which is another must for any deck playing a Survival-like effect.
Tooth and Nail is a staple of green, and is definitely a must-include. It might look expensive at first glance, but I assure you that you will be casting it, and often much earlier than you might have thought.
Citanul Flute is a funny card. The great thing about it is that it is color-independent, so you will often encounter it in a wide variety of decks. It is at its best, however, in a deck like this one, where your creatures become your utility. The downside of this card is that it is so powerful you’ll often have trouble getting it to stick around for more than a few turns at most, since your opponents will be collaborating in their efforts to remove it.
You could argue looking over this list that the deck is a bit short on card draw. That said, card draw is often not as important for this deck as it would be for decks running other Commanders. The reason for this being that you will often have enough to do simply micro-managing your board position. Late game, you will undoubtedly have lots of effects and triggers to juggle. Your board at that point, as mentioned before, becomes your arsenal. All that aside, you still want to have a few ways to grab some extra cards, especially if you have just suffered a set back (like a board wipe) and need to refuel.
Slate of Ancestry is a fantastic card for this. Obviously though, you want to activate this card before that board wipe. If you consider how many creatures you could potentially have on the board (at any given time, I tended to have anywhere between five to fifty tokens out) you’re talking about some serious card draw. With something like a Reliquary Tower, you can draw those twenty cards without guilt.
Skullclamp was one of the first cards I added to the deck after receiving my initial list. This deck produces 1/1 tokens like you would not believe. One mana to draw two cards is very nice, and you can very easily fill up your hand with this card. Remember, it is considered one of the most broken cards ever printed for a reason! It also goes quite well with Awakening Zone.
What’s a white deck without at least a few ways to blow up everything? There are only really about six ways for this deck to clear the board. Two of those I have already talked about: Elspeth Tirel, and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. The other four I will talk about here.
Austere Command is a fantastic card, because it has so much built-in utility. It also possesses the all-important ability to wipe the board without necessarily killing your own creatures. This consideration is the primary reason that the Rhys deck does not have more mass-removal, since it is counter-productive, as often you will be the player with the most creatures on the board (unless you are doing something wrong).
Catastrophe is a card that is useful not so much for its ability to wipe the board of creatures, but to wipe the board of lands. This type of strategy could win the game outright for you. If you played your cards right, you should have a board chock full of creatures and mana-generators. And like just talked about, you should have more creatures than any of your opponents. Wiping all lands, and still leaving yourself capable of playing anything in your deck, thanks to mana-dorks like Priest of Titania, while leaving your opponents completely helpless seems like a fantastic plan of action to me.
Sunblast Angel is a great card because it can also act as a one-sided board wipe. It also combos nicely with Glare of Subdual. Sure, you will lose the creatures that you tap to activate it, but unlike your opponents, a Rhys deck is never short on token fodder.
Hour of Reckoning is one more card that I added fairly early on to the deck. It seems made for this type of strategy. Essentially, it is identical to Elspeth’s final ability, except it might be even easier to cast. With convoke, you can potentially cast this one-sided board wipe for the low price of three white mana.
This will be a short discussion. There is only one lifegain card left in the deck (not counting Elspeth), and that is Essence Warden. This card is simply far too efficient to remove. With all the tokens Rhys and company will be generating, plus any creature your opponents decide to play, you can gain some absurd amounts of life from this one card. Plus, it goes along with an elf tribal theme, which does not hurt.
If you thought some of the cards in the token-abusers section looked like fun, wait until you get a closer look at these cards. Most of these cards are what allow you to do some very broken things with your tokens, which means that they also allow you to do some very awesome and joyous things.
Seedborn Muse is a must for this deck, and really any deck that has the capability to play her. It is essentially like having three extra turns each cycle. And considering that your toolbox, or ‘hand’, is your board, you can do a lot of work and set yourself up for the win, all before taking your next actual turn.
Quest for Renewal is very similar to Seedborn Muse, except that it only untaps creatures. Honestly though, this is not hardship, especially if you have mana producing creatures out on the board. I added this card early on, and I have never been disappointed with it.
These next two cards have very similar effects: Asceticism and Privileged Position. There are some small but significant differences between the two, however. Asceticism gives all your creatures hexproof, and allows you to have a bit of protection from board wipes, since you can regenerate your creatures if they happen to die. Privileged Position, while it does not allow you to regenerate your creatures, gives hexproof to all of your permanents, and not just creatures. Both of them are very powerful, since they basically blank any removal that your opponents might have with the exception of mass removal, which this deck is already prepared to handle.
Glare of Subdual is a card I have already mentioned, but it deserves to have a little bit more about it said. It can be a key part of your win condition, since it allows you to tap your opponents’ creatures and clear the way for your army to head in for the kill. And like I’ve continually stressed, you will almost always have more creatures out than any opponent, so tapping their cards down should not ever be an issue. Oh, and did I mention that it also taps artifacts?
Mana bases for Commander decks have quite a few staples, and so for this section, I’ll only mention those cards which I think are most relevant for the Rhys deck in particular.
Kjeldoran Outpost might have a bit of a drawback in that it destroys one of your plains, but it does produce tokens efficiently, so it is worth including. It is also mostly impervious to removal, so it will be around after the board wipe.
Urza’s Factory has actually been a very useful card. Admittedly, it is expensive to activate, at least early game. That said, it does have several advantages. The most important one is that it creatures a colorless token, which means that anyone who tries to kill you with protection from green or white is going to have a harder time getting through your Clockwork tokens.
Wirewood Lodge is a must, because it can untap your mana-dorks like Priest of Titania or Elvish Archdruid, and it can also untap Rhys if you want to double up on your token generating during the same turn.
The last notable land card in this list is Oran-Rief, the Vastwood. It is fairly self-explanatory why this card is so great. You basically gain the ability to create multitudes of 2/2 tokens, rather than 1/1 tokens. Over the long run, you are doubling up the amount of damage you can deal, which is no small matter.
That’s a lot of writing! Don’t worry though, the primer isn’t over. It’s merely being split into two parts. So, be sure to check out the second part of the primer if you want to find out more about potential combos in the deck, as well asthe various paths to victory that the deck can utilize to win. Also, the final part of the primer will be especially relevant since it will detail which cards to add to the deck if you want to take it beyond the constraints of the list attached here. It will also catalogue the evolution of the deck over time as new sets are released. This means that if you did not see your favorite Rhys card in this article, it may make an appearance in the second part of the primer. This primer is an ongoing process, and will be continually maintained in order to bring you the most up-to-date information regarding Rhys the Redeemed, and the many ways in which to use and abuse him.
As always, your suggestions and comments are appreciated and encouraged.