Teysa’s Beckoning – How I Started Playing White in Commander
I’ll keep the self-introduction brief. I’m glad to be writing about the format I love the most and will always play, even if Standard is boring as a goat that doesn’t faint. I have been a competitive Magic player since Conflux, but got into Commander around the time of Zendikar’s release. Without Commander, I’m pretty sure I would have stopped playing Magic after Standard’s Caw-Blade deck exploded onto the scene. For two years, Commander gave me solace when Standard was flat-out dead to me. I thank Commander for keeping my interest in Magic alive and healthy. Anyways…
As it is with me and most games I play, I have my preferred style of play. Magic is no exception. In Commander, I have a glaring flaw in my experience – I’ve never played white in a single Commander game. Ever. This week, I finally made the decision to build a white Commander deck. I chose Black to be the secondary color, which bring me to another point – I have never built a two-color deck for Commander. These two flaws in my Commander experience left me with a desire to fill the gaps a little. So without further ado, I present the very first white Commander deck I have ever played – Teysa, Orzhov Scion. Keep in mind I have a fairly large collection, with cards newer players may not own included in the list.
Teysa, Orzhov Scion Deck List
Why choose White in the first place? And why choose Black over any other supporting color? Let’s first look at why players should choose White at all.
Reasoning for the Strengths…
The number one reason to play White is because you can have access to some of the best removal in the entirety of Commander. Cards like Hallowed Burial, Wrath of God, and Path to Exile/Swords to Plowshares are all cards that effectively deal with creatures that are threatening to take your face off. Also, everything on that list, with the exception of Wrath of God, stop the threat at hand from being stolen by another player from the graveyard.
The other big reason to play White in Commander: your creatures can also do some serious work. Cards such as Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, Iona, Shield of Emeria, and Karmic Guide can all affect the board – and players – in drastic ways. Iona can shut down multiple decks just by naming the relevant color. Elesh Norn can makes your opponent’s creatures unplayable. Karmic Guide is a fantastic combo piece and also has relevant protections.
And its Weaknesses are… (Strictly Personal)
White has its weaknesses, like the other colors. The greatest weakness I have noticed isn’t usually one of cards, although the early creatures aren’t as great as the other colors. The biggest impediment to playing White is more the perception behind the color. A lot of W/X or W/X/X Commanders, such as Captain Sisay or Sharuum the Hegemon, often generate the idea of “Kill that player first”, despite the other Commanders sometimes having a bigger edge. While it is true that both of those Commanders are obscenely good at times, there are situations that arise that can make Sisay or Sharuum a moot point in the midst of a more powerful adversary. If an Animar, Soul of Elements is casting lots of creatures in a single turn, it can make the Sisay player irrelevant, unless Sisay grabs a mass removal creature. The point I make is that more often than not, White’s biggest weakness in Commander is more the perception that if you bring a W/X/x Commander, such as Sharuum or Sisay, you are often assumed to have ways to make the game not fun or frustrating to play.
Why Black as a Support?
I chose to play Black as my support color because it not only enhances my suite of mass removal, it also has great creature recursion and tutor effects. Cards that tutor up answers to whatever threatens you are easiest to find in Black, with those cards often putting your chosen card into your hand. Black also has access to some of the best utility and finishers, with cards like Profane Command, Nezumi Graverobber, and Massacre Wurm (which also happens to fill both roles.
The downside to playing Black as my second color is that my graveyard can become a casualty of war. There is enough great graveyard hate that if you play your recursion early and often, you will get targeted by the hate, and it can and will hurt. Another big weakness is that good spot removal can be extremely hard to find. There are some good ones, such as Vindicate and Mortify, but in Commander spot removal needs to do more than just a Doom Blade effect. It needs to either be able to hit more types of targets, hit multiple targets, or put a creature onto the battlefield in addition to the spot removal.
Then… Why Tesya? Why Not Vish Kal or Ghost Council of Orzhova?
I chose Teysa, Orzhov Scion because she has ways to deal with threats on the board. Teysa is also great for building a token deck, as she rewards the token-based strategies much better than Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter or Ghost Council of Orzhova. With Teysa, your white tokens have a practical use in that they can be fodder for Teysa to remove problematic creatures. Your black token and non-token creatures reward you with white spirits when they die, so Teysa can have more fun with creatures. Of note: Purely as a personal thought, I love playing more control in Commander than is obvious in my Standard play. Teysa feels more attuned to my style of control, so I do have a slight bias.
I chose to not play Vish Kal as my Commander because the removal ability attached to him isn’t as good as having the ability to exile the threat in question. The number of Commanders and decks with the means to grab the creature I just killed make me uneasy to use Vish Kal as my Commander.
I chose not to play the Ghost Council because the effect of draining 1 life from a target player isn’t significant enough. While the ability to save it from a mass removal spell is good, that alone doesn’t justify playing a Commander. If having the ability to save it is the main reason for playing Ghost Council, I’m not playing it as my Commander.
Impressions, Predictions and Ideas
As of this writing, I have yet to finish a multiplayer game of Commander with Teysa. Unfortunately, this means no solid experience with the deck. These are my impressions from playing the segments of games I got to.
1) Teysa can be surprisingly efficient. I had two plays where I exiled a land and a creature with Teysa and Archon of Justice. With the good array amount of methods to get creatures back, it shouldn’t be a big shocker, but being able to abuse death triggers with added value is fun.
3) Two Phyrexian Arena effects are good. Bloodgift Demon and the real Phyrexian Arena are both great ways to draw extra cards in Black, with the former also serving as a risky kill condition. I love to cast Sign in Blood when my opponent is at 2 life… it’s an odd feeling of satisfaction, being able to pull of that random kill with a draw spell. It’s much the same with the Demon, but the player is at 5 and they may draw a removal spell. If I pull it off, all the better – it’s a random kill with a draw effect.
4) There can be an insane amount of triggers going off after I sacrifice a creature with Teysa on board. For instance: Activate Hell’s Caretaker with Grave Pact on board to sacrifce a Zombie token from Grave Titan, get my Spirit token, make opponents sacrifice a dude, get Solemn Simulacrum, search for a land… and that’s a relatively minor example. Greater effects can happen when Butcher of Malakir + Grave Pact + Teysa, Orzhov Scion are currently on the battlefield, then you sac three white creatures to exile a creature. Assuming there’s a Reveillark somewhere in this, there could be a lot of confusion for triggers and their resolution.
Of note is that Teysa, Orzhov Scion will be my featured Commander for a good while. While Rhys the Redeemed is indeed a token deck like Teysa, these two Commanders couldn’t have any more different ways of using their token armies. Teysa loves to use tokens to exile problematic creatures and control what creatures will stick to the battlefield. I’ll be looking at more ways to build Teysa and will experiment on my own as well. Also of note is that I will be joining the Magic Online scene sometime soon (once they fix the WiFi in my dorm) and I hope to see you all there! Lastly, I will be posting a primer for building and playing Teysa within the next few weeks, complete with key cards, ways to build the deck, and my personal opinions on how to approach playing Teysa.
In Closing… My Thoughts on Commander
First of all, Commander is a lively, engaging format where there is no “Caw-blade” or deck that has to be played in order to enjoy yourself. I’ve been working on evolving my Animar deck to better levels, but that deck has a lot of the cards it will (most likely) ever need. With Teysa, I gain the chance to experiment significantly more – despite me having some of the better cards, I can honestly building a Commander deck involving White is harder than I thought it would be. Also, with Teysa I feel like I get the opportunity to better detail and chronicle the genesis and evolution of a Commander deck. This is probably the weirdest reason why I love this chance to play with Teysa: I feel like a new player again, struggling with how to play best.
While I’ve been playing Commander for two years and competitive Standard for three, nothing truly compares to the “new player” feeling for me like this does. In Teysa, I gain the experience of having played generous amounts of Commander, as well as the bewilderment of what I first felt when I first started down the path to Commander veteran. The sense of bewilderment is key here, for without it, I couldn’t learn as easily, if at all. I want and need bewilderment to foster growth by inspiring me to overcome it, mainly by doing my research and playing lots of games with not just Teysa, but also other white Commander decks. Although Teysa will be my flagship Commander, I am open to playing other decks as a means to conquer the bewilderment.
Thank you for reading, thank you for any guidance, and thank you for any card choices suggested. I think I’ve distracted you long enough. Get out there, play some epic games of Commander, and let the battles commence! I’m off to play Commander with friends… see you next week!