Welcome to Part 2 of my Thraximundar article series. When we last left off with the deck, I had suggested that one of the issues with the current build was its lack of focus. My proposed solution was to dedicate the deck to a specific archetype and run with it. After making several big updates to the deck, I am very pleased to say that it is finally starting to function as intended. That said, the deck is heading in a slightly different direction from the one that I predicted at the close of my previous article. I interpreted the first build of the deck as being a combination of an aggressive strategy combined with a sacrifice theme. Each of these approaches has their own share of issues. The aggressive strategy tends to stall out late game, leaving you dead in the water. The sacrifice build suffered from a lack of supporting cards, as well as from a general lack of purpose. The sacrifice theme is ultimately constructed in order to support Thraximundar’s thirst for blood. Without the ability to play Thraximundar early enough to take advantage of these effects, they proved a bit useless.
The more you consider these two strategies, the more apparent it becomes that they cannot be the main attraction if the deck is to be successful. As I’ve played more with the deck, several things have become clear: Thraximundar can be at the same time an aggressive Commander, as well as a mid-range or control Commander. He’s adaptive. With the right ramp, you finish off your opponents quickly or, if that fails, switch gears to control and start playing a long game. As for the Sacrifice game-plan, while it is good for removal, it does nothing to further the aim of your deck in the absence of Thraximundar. For that reason, the deck can be much more efficient after some of the gimicky sacrifice effects are removed for cards that better suit the goal of the deck. In order to make sacrifice effects work, they have to be as unobtrusive as possible. I’ll explain what I mean by this later in the article. First though, I would like to show you what updates I have made to the deck since last week.
Tightening the Reins, Gaining Control of the Deck
There were a few immediate things that I knew needed to be cut, without even necessarily knowing what would be replacing them: Equipment and Sacrifice spells. If you consider the previous deck list from the first article, you realize that the deck does not really have that many creatures. This is because the only creature the deck actually wants to cast is Thraximundar. He is far and away your best creature. This means that in his absence, much of your equipment is simply dead. As for sacrifice spells, I am speaking of cards like Innocent Blood and the Edicts. While they are reasonable forms of removal, there are more efficient ways to destroy creatures, and the sacrifice text is not helping Thraximundar if he is stuck in the Command Zone. But let’s get to business:
While the fear can sometimes be nice, and the card draw decent, Mask of Riddles suffers from a lack of good targets. Expedition Map is a much more useful card in the deck, since it can fetch your utility lands. This is especially relevant now that Cabal Coffers has been added to the deck (see below).
This is more of a test than anything else. A creature as your sacrifice effect might be more useful since it can be recurred. Plus, it works well with the sacrifice-outlets already in the deck, like Phyrexian Tower.
The Edicts in general have been very ineffective, and they get even worse late game when your opponents have multiple creatures on the board. Most of the time, I would have preferred targeted removal. Bloodghast is here as part of a sac-engine. I would still like to test the Sacrifice build, and part of that is having good targets for it. Even so, the games where I have had Bloodghast, he has not been very impressive.
The Maul is a decent piece of equipment if attached to Thraximundar, and completely terrible otherwise. Oblivion Stone on the other hand acts as a fantastic answer to almost everything your opponents can put on the board. With Voltaic Key (another new addition) and enough mana, you can play the Stone, protect one of your permanents, and blow up everything else on the same turn. That aside, it is still the deck’s best answer to pesky enchantments and artifacts.
Exsanguinate can be a good card, provided you have a lot of extra mana. However, I have found that it is generally too slow to be useful most games. Time Stretch on the other hand has great combo potential. Regardless of how you feel about taking extra turns when playing Commander, there will always be players who have access to cards like this, and I do not want to be the guy bringing a knife to a gun fight, so to speak.
When it comes to stealing cards, Praetor’s Grasp does not do the job half so well as Aura Thief. The Thief is a fantastic answer to enchantments, which are typically a big problem for this deck. It works great with the sac-outlets already in the deck, like Phyrexian Tower and Dimir House Guard.
This may seem like a strange change, but hear me out. Blood Tyrant is really only good at one thing, and that is doing damage to your opponents. The problem with this is that it’s too narrow a form of damage. The deck typically wants to win with Thraximundar. He’s your best creature, hands down. Dragon Mage on the other hand gives the deck something it desperately needs, and that is card draw, and also graveyard targets for recursion shenanigans. He’s also a magnet for removal, which should be an indication of just how much your opponents do not want to lose their hands.
Nosferatu is a very fun and flavorful card, but the power level is just not there. Body Double though is a beating. It not only can come into play as a copy of a creature in your graveyard, but also from your opponents’ graveyards. This means that what it can potentially become is effectively limitless. This deck has quite a few ways to get cards into the graveyard, making this a very efficient card. It also essentially gives you two copies of all the best creatures in your deck.
Shriekmaw was originally in the deck because of the sacrifice effect that happens when you evoke it. Testing has proved this ability to be largely irrelevant, and so this replacement makes sense. Go for the Throat is clearly better as it hits black creatures.
Blue is a great color for counterspells, but the Whelk will not go down in the history books as being a particularly good one. It is too expensive to cast, and I rarely want to leave up that much mana to counter a spell, especially early game. Cauldron Dance has been fantastic because it allows you to get in a lot of surprise damage, as well as recur a card from your graveyard. If you have a chance to play multiple copies of this spell (perhaps by recurring it with Izzet Chronarch) you can continually recycle the same two cards from your hand and your graveyard, if you desire.
Another Edict spell left by the wayside. Voltaic Key has been fantastic in this deck. It does so many great things with our artifacts. It untaps Basalt Monolith and Mana Vault for one mana, allowing you to produce a lot more mana each turn. It can also be quite good paired with Tawnos’s Coffin.
Fireshrieker was a good piece of equipment, but very difficult to set up. I would prefer to rely on extra combat steps to set up my double striking, as opposed to a piece of easily removed equipment. Mana Vault has been fantastic as a piece of ramp. Getting this out there early can set up a very fast Thraximundar entrance, which will often take your opponents off-guard and allow you to get in some serious damage.
While I really do love Slave of Bolas, it is a bit expensive and slow for what it does. Ray of Command seems better in this slot because it can be cast at instant speed for one less mana (and fewer colors). Also, with the right sacrifice outlets, you still get the benefit of permanently removing one of your opponents creatures after you have devastated them with it.
No explanation necessary.
Hoarding Dragon is an expensive artifact fetch, and if it is exiled, you lose your target permanently. The Coffin is a good replacement because it works so well in a lot of the combos in the deck. For instance, if you have Tawnos’s Coffin, Izzet Chronarch or Mnemonic Wall, and Time Warp or Time Stretch, you can have infinite turns. He can also be used to remove opposing Commanders at instant speed, and can be used on Thraximundar and still maintain all of his counters.
Thraximundar Deck List
Those are the main updates I have made since the last time. The difference these changes have made to the deck is unbelievable. Just having Mana Vault and Expedition Map has dramatically sped up the deck. In my previous article, I mentioned how rarely I had the opportunity to cast Thraximundar. Every game since I introduced these updates to the deck, Thraximundar has come down three to five times. This deck is truly starting to shine. I still have a very extensive list of potential updates to the deck that I would like to share, which is very exciting considering how this slight update to the deck has already netted some impressive results. I will be sharing a few of these lists toward the end of the article, but first I would like to share one of the games I have played recently with the deck that really highlights its power and potential after the upgrades.
From Offense to the Slow Grind, The Thraximundar Game Plan
As I mentioned earlier in the article, one thing I have noticed about the Thraximundar deck is that it does not have to be dedicated to aggro in order to be aggressive. Artifact ramp is just as useful to cast cards needed for combos and deck synergy as it is for playing Thraximundar early. As a result, I have found myself casting Thraximundar quite frequently early game to great effect. As the game goes on, the deck is able to smoothly switch gears from aggressive beat-down to Combo/Control, with Thraximundar as a potential finisher and all-around great creature.
For this game, my opponents were playing Jenara, Asura of War, and two counts of Riku of Two Reflections, one of the new Commanders. This might make it slightly difficult to differentiate between the two, but I’ll color code them for you: Riku Green (top left) and Riku Orange (bottom right). All of us in the game started out strong with various mana artifacts. For myself, Basalt Monolith and Worn Powerstone. For Riku Green, Mana Crypt and lots of great non-basics. Perhaps one of the most amusing occurrences of this game was the Riku Green losing every flip to the Mana Crypt (I mean every single flip). I would say at least half of their life total was sacrificed to the Crypt. Overall, this was a fantastic game for Thraximundar. During the entire course of the game, I literally played zero creatures with the exception of my Commander until the very last turn. The ramp from my mana artifacts made casting Thraximundar easy. He was destroyed multiple times, but my increasingly large mana base was always able to afford to recast him. Thraximundar can be a beating early game, since if your opponents are starting off slow, they can only play one or two creatures a turn. Since Thraximundar forces them to sacrifice a creature when you attack, they either take damage, or block if they have another creature on the board. Even without protection, Thraximundar was able to stick around for several turns at a time, due to the general lack of removal being played by my opponents.
Once the game progressed a bit further, I switched tactics and turned to card advantage through Phyrexian Arena. Drawing an extra card a turn adds up quickly. This game overall was very fast, as measured by Commander games. The clincher was a resolved Godo, Bandit Warlord fetching a Lightning Greaves. Attacking twice with just Godo, I was able to kill Riku Green, who had been suffering the entire game from their own Mana Crypt. Next turn, I play Thraximundar and attack with both. During the second combat phase provided by Godo, I used Minamo, School at Water’s Edge to untap Thraximundar to finish off Riku Orange with Commander damage.
As you can see from that previous game, Thraximundar was an all-star. Let’s take a look at the other side of the spectrum with this next game. This time around, Thraximundar stays largely in the Command Zone, and the deck wins through combo and control.
Another Commander Game
This game, my opponents are playing Captain Sisay, Child of Alara, and Zedruu the Greathearted. Captain Sisay was a Commander I had never played with before. In a singleton format that likes legends, she can be a great tutor, as it happens.
Regardless, several things happened this game that guided my strategy away from aggro and toward control. I started the game with Mana Vault in hand, so my mana ramp was fairly impressive. Also, I quickly drew a Necropotence along with a Reliquary Tower. I played both of them on Turn 3 thanks to a Turn 1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. This deck does not have that many ways to gain life other than Loxodon Warhammer, so Necropotence can be hurtful. However, the card advantage completely outweighs this fact, so long as you have cards in your deck worth drawing. Drawing all of these cards, I quickly encountered my Cabal Coffers, so my mana generation was off the charts. Thraximundar might have made earlier appearances, however I was unfortunately kept off playing a red source for quite a few turns, and then by the time I was able to play one, Thraximundar no longer was that relevant.
My Zedruu opponent was having some mana issues (according to him—his mana looked fine to me) and the Child of Alara opponent seemed to be biding his time. My principal opponent at this point in the game was the Sisay opponent, who seemed to have an enchantment sub-theme, which against my deck can be nasty. On Turn 2 he played a Sterling Grove, and soon after an Academy Rector. Thinking to use some of my mana, I played a Sheoldred, Whispering One on Turn 5. On his turn, he sacrifices his Rector and fetches an Aura Shards, plays a creature, and kills my Loxodon Warhammer. His reasoning for not killing my Necropotence instead is that I could have activated it in response to draw as many cards as I wanted, and that it was “killing” me. He was technically correct on both counts, however I still feel he would have been better off destroying the Necropotence early on. Regardless, I realized that I would have to deal with that Aura Shards, or he would completely destroy my mana base. My answer was to play Phyrexian Tower, cast Beseech the Queen to tutor up my Aura Thief, play that as well, and then sacrifice it to the Tower in order to gain control of all enchantments. In response, he sacrifices his Sterling Grove and tutors up a Mirari’s Wake, which goes on top of his library.
At this point, my Child of Alara opponent plays a card I had never seen before: Shifting Borders. He targets my Cabal Coffers and one of his lands, and I lose part of my mana producing power. That was a sad set-back, but fortunately the game was advanced enough for my mana base to have become reasonably developed. On my following turn, I cast Myojin of Night’s Reach and cause all of my opponents to discard their hands, leaving me the only player with cards in hand (a total of thirteen cards, to be exact). When Myojin enters the battlefield, I destroy my opponent’s Font of Mythos courtesy of my stolen Aura Shards in order to make sure that their recovery is as slow as possible. His next turn, the Child of Alara opponent plays his Commander. On my turn, I float all the mana from my artifacts and cast Terminate on the Child to clear the board. I then use my leftover mana to cast Phyrexian Arena and Dimir House Guard.
On his next turn, Sisay plays Karmic Guide to bring back Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, which they had played just previous to having everything blown up by Child of Alara. On my next turn, I cast a kicked Rite of Replication on the Karmic Guide, bringing back my Dimir House Guard, Sheoldred, Whispering One, Mulldrifter, Aura Thief and Fleshbag Marauder. As I do this, the Child of Alara opponent promptly concedes. The other result of this play is that I draw two cards from Mulldrifer, force the Sisay opponent to sacrifice their Sisay from the Fleshbag, and am left with a Sheoldred on the board after sacrificing the Dimir House Guard to my own Fleshbag. All of the other creatures, of course, died to Elesh Norn’s global. On Sisay’s turn immediately after, they are forced to sacrifice their Elesh Norn, and they pass with only having played a Shield of Kaldra. The Zedruu opponent, who has literally done almost nothing at this point, concedes. My next turn I recur Mulldrifer to draw two more cards. One of those cards is Time Stretch. After the Child opponent conceded, my Cabal Coffers returned to my control, so this turn I was fully loaded. I cast Godo, Bandit Warlord, fetched Sword of Feast and Famine, played Lightning Greaves, which I had also drawn, equipped the Warlord with the Greaves and Sheoldred with the Sword, and swung for life. My second main phase, fully untapped again, I played Tawnos’s Coffin, Time Stretch, and then Izzet Chronarch to recur the Time Stretch. My final remaining opponent conceded graciously.
The moral of the story for both of these previous games is not that I won, which is certainly nice, but that the exact same deck can have two very different methods of achieving victory. The first game, Thraximundar was the clear path to victory. He nearly single-handedly won that game. In the second game, Thraximundar was not played at all, and the deck relied on combo and control cards in order to achieve victory. From my brief experiences thus far, I feel that this is the optimal way to play the deck. Be aggressive with Thraximundar where possible—because he is your best card—but if that plan does not pan out, you switch tactics to control and work towards setting yourself up for the game winning combo.
Meanwhile, Back in the Lab
I mentioned earlier in the article that I’ve been compiling an extensive list of potential cards to test for the deck, and I’d like to take a moment here to give you a bit of a preview for next week. We’ve already identified four basic builds of Thraximundar, three of which are actually relevant, since the Zombie-tribal theme is more casual than we are looking to explore here. I’m going to do my best to break down these cards into their respective archetypes, though understand there can be considerable overlap.
It becomes clear just from looking at the above lists that either Midrange/Combo has more support, or this author has a bias (I’m leaning toward the latter). Either way, the Sacrifice route does have some interesting cards to check out. In regard to the Aggressive strategy, as I outlined much earlier in the article, I think that it works perfectly fine in combination with the midrange strategy, so those lists could possibly be combined. Either way, expect to see some of those cards making an appearance next week.
Following these most recent updates, I have started to enjoy the Thraximundar deck considerably, which should ultimately be the most important consideration when you are constructing your deck. I am looking forward to tinkering with the deck further, and there’s no telling what the deck will look like come this time next week. Until then, I would appreciate any comments or suggestions on the deck. Thanks for reading!