The new Commander 2013 products have been out for a few weeks now and given us enough time to brew some decent decks for each of the 10 new commanders. I’ll be looking at each of the 5 new decks and building a deck around each commander, one Duel Commander deck and one multiplayer deck for each colour combination.
Lets have a look at her abilities. Her first ability triggers when she enter’s the battlefield, and depends on how much mana you spent on casting her. Manipulating the top of your library to make sure you have some decent targets for her ability could be very important, and is a key part of designing a deck around Jeleva.
Her second ability triggers whenever you attack, and allows you to cast a spell for free. Once the spell is cast, it goes back to its owners graveyard, so don’t try any Time Warp + Maze of Ith shenanigans, as you won’t be able to cast the same spell again and again. Also be wary of casting an important spell belonging to an opponent, as they could find a way to cast it or get it back from their graveyard and ruin your day.
Design-wise, she is very similar to Kaalia of the Vast and Zur, the Enchanter in that she has a feeble body that gets value when she attacks, regardless of if she dies in combat or not. As such, she will probably need some similar support such as haste enablers and protection. If you exile a powerful card with her ability, then don’t expect her to make it round the table a turn before being killed. However, unlike Zur or Kaalia, your opponents will know what cards have been exiled with her ability, so they will know how important it may be to stop you from attacking.
However, don’t fall into the trap of thinking she will play anything like Zur does in Duel Commander. A Zur deck casts Zur early and uses his ability to control the board by searching for the right enchantments, or finds you half of the Helm of Obedience/Rest in Peace combo. Zur doesn’t need anything to help set it up before casting Zur and swinging in. Jeleva, at least the way I would build her, requires you to set up the top of your library in an attempt to win as soon as you attack with her. If you are unable to set the top of your library up, there should be enough powerful spells that in a pinch you can cast her and hope to exile something powerful anyway. The idea is to control the board, set up the top of you library, and then cast Jeleva either with haste or protection. This build relies on Jeleva quite a lot, but it can win out of no where and has inevitability against a lot of decks if you can control the board. I also started building a mid-range version of the deck which I will talk about later, but I found the ‘combo’ version had some better matchups and also showcased Jeleva’s power better than using her as a card advantage engine in a midrange deck. Both decks have their merits.
Anything that lets you stack the top of your deck will be pretty powerful in a Jeleva deck. You can sculpt your hand with tutors and with your mulligans, then before casting your commander, put some cards back on top to exile with cards like Brainstorm, or tutor for powerful spells with cards like. Mystical Tutor and Personal Tutor.
There is a problem that decks like this usually run into. In order to make the most of her ability, you might want to run lots of high cmc spells to exile and cast for free. This could mean they get stuck in your hand without the ability to cast them. Getting the right balance between powerful spells with high cmc that you will only really cast with Jeleva, powerful spells you can cast normally but wouldn’t mind casting with Jeleva, and control cards, or cards that don’t really have an effect when cast from Jeleva, is going to be key to making a powerful deck. Counterspells for example won’t do anything when exiled from her, but are still an important part of my deck.
Lets have a look at my decklist then:
Jeleva, Duel Commander Combo
But how exactly does Jeleva win? Through combo of course! The idea is to win the first time you attack with Jeleva, when possible. Sometimes it’s best to play it safe and control the board, or go for an alternate win condition, but for the most part you want to win the first time she attacks.
The Win ConditionsHatred – By swinging in with Jeleva and casting Hatred, you can kill your enemy in one swing by paying enough life to kill by commander damage. This does require protection before you attempt to win by it though. First there needs to be no blockers. Second, you need Hatred to resolve. Paying life is an additional cost, so it is very important to make sure it will resolve after putting a lot of life into it. Lastly, you need to make sure Jeleva will connect, and not be killed before damage. This means the deck will need protection for Jeleva and enough counter magic to ensure Hatred resolves and you can counter any removal. Enter the Infinite (with Conflagrate) is our other main win condition that can help you win as soon as you cast it. It has the downside of being very difficult to cast without Jeleva, however. Once you cast Enter the Infinite, you can cast some mana rocks to get mana to play from hand and/or flash back Conflagrate. It is important that we have two win conditions (Hatred and Enter the Infinite) in case Jeleva gets killed after exiling one of them. If Enter the Infinite resolves, we almost always win (rare cases such as Render Silent or Rule of Law can still stop us) so this is our main win condition. The idea is to get this on top of your library, then exile it with Jeleva and get to the combat step to cast it for free and win.
Other big playsCruel Ultimatum can swing a game massively in your favour. The sheer amount of card advantage provided by making them discard 3 while drawing 3 yourself is likely to put you in a winning position, let alone with making them sac a creature, getting a creature back yourself, and the life loss. Bribery can be insane in certain matchups. Getting Emrakul, Grislebrand, or Iona from an opponents deck and using it against them can be huge. In some matchups it’s less relevant, but you can normally get a utility creature or hatebear from your opponents decks to use against them. Temporal Mastery is included specifically because of the amount of top of library manipulation. It is a time walk in this deck most of the time, but also useful when cast off of Jeleva.
Setting up the top of your library
This is arguably the most important part of a Jeleva deck. Setting up the top of your library before casting Jeleva can ensure you have one of the win conditions on top of your library to exile with Jeleva. If it’s better for the current board state, it may be better to tutor for removal or discard instead, though normally you would want to get one of the big spells on top.Mystical Tutor, Personal Tutor and Cruel Tutor will all tutor for something and put it on top of your deck. While they are always useful to find whatever answer you need at the minute, their main use is to put a win condition on top of your library so you can cast it with your commander. Long-Term Plans is a slightly less powerful tutor, but because we are putting a card 3rd from top and Jeleva is exiling at least 4 cards, we don’t really care of its exact position! In fact, sometimes it’s better than the top of library tutors because we can set it up a few turns before we need to cast Jeleva. Lim-Duls Vault is definitely the most powerful, but often most difficult card in this deck to use correctly. It lets you stack the top of your deck, but knowing how to stack it is very difficult, as you may need to look for either a big spell AND protection, or another tutor and protection. Sometimes you will end up wishing you had kept the previous 5 cards instead of kept going. It can be used for so many other things though, finding haste enablers or utility creatures, and stacking your deck. Scroll Rack – very useful to get big spells out of your hand and on top of your library to exile with Jeleva, as well as being able to put back cards that aren’t helpful to us and crack a fetchland to shuffle them away. Insidious Dreams – normally a card known for card disadvantage and only useful in combo decks, is incredibly strong in this deck. Discard a couple cards and stack the top of your deck with your win condition.
Haste and Protection
Giving Jeleva haste can make a huge difference in any Jeleva deck. It could be the difference between winning on the spot and letting your opponent untap and kill Jeleva before you have a chance to attack. Protection can help Jeleva survive a turn in the event that you can’t give her protection. It can also be used to protect the utility creatures we will be adding later!Lightning Greaves and Swiftfoot Boots are both cheap artifacts that offer both haste and protection. These are widely played in multiplayer and seen a lot less often in Duel Commander, but with the importance of haste and protection, they are both very good in this deck. However, Lightning Greaves is much worse if you are trying to win via Hatred so watch out for that. Hall of the Bandit Lord is one of the best haste enablers as it’s on a land, and hard for opponents to interact with. Its searchable with Expedition Map and is also the easiest way to get the very illusive, but possible, turn 3 win. Spellskite is one of the best protection spells in the format, able to divert removal onto himself. It also can take opponents by surprise when you divert spells they were using to target their own creatures, like enchantments, onto your Spellskite and then you can laugh like a madman and kill them with a Rancor’d Spellskite.
Counterspells are difficult in this deck, as they do nothing when exiled with Jeleva, and yet we need them to protect her and to control the board. However, this is very much a tapped out control deck. It controls the board with removal, wraths and discard as much as with counterspells, so I have only included the best counterspells and free counterspells.Cryptic Command actually can be cast when exiled with Jeleva, and is one of the best counterspells ever printed anyway. It can clear the way of blockers, bounce something you can’t deal with and draw a card as well as counter a spell depending on which modes are best at any given time. Counterspell is the best hard counter in the format except for Force of Will, and at only 2 mana, we can easily cast it early or leave mana open to use it to protect our commander. Force of Will is the best counterspell ever printed. Sure it’s card disadvantage, but it’s also free making it very difficult for your opponents to play around. Pact of Negation is another free counterspell that’s difficult to play around, though you have to pay for it on your upkeep. It’s definitely worth it to make sure your important spells resolve, especially as you can draw it off Enter the Infinite to protect your winning spell. Unless it’s before turn 5 in which case this is kind of bad, though if it’s protecting Enter the Infinite, you should win before your upkeep anyway. Misdirection is basically a second Force against blue decks, but it also can redirect removal to your opponents creatures saving your own and killing theirs.
Targeted discard is very powerful in 1v1 formats. It gives you a lot of information about whether it is safe to cast your commander or not, as well as letting you take their most important spell: either taking a spell that stops them doing whatever they were planning on doing, or a spell that they were going to use to stop YOU doing whatever you were going to be doing. Targeted discard is very powerful in the first few turns to slow your opponent down, take crucial cards from them, and take away their control cards. It is also very powerful the turn before, or the same turn, that you cast your commander to take their removal or counterspells to make sure they can’t counter or kill Jeleva once you cast her.Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, and Duress all play similar roles, they take the most relevant card that they can. Which card they should be taking is different in every matchup and for every board state, but normally turn 1 and 2 against agro, take cards that will slow them down. Against control, take their control cards. In the turns just before casting Jeleva, take counterspells and removal, and use the information you gain to ensure you can stick Jeleva and get to your attack step without her dying. Hymn to Tourach is a very powerful discard spell, and it’s still pretty good when cast off Jeleva. It’s best turn 2 or 3, but still reasonable late game to take apart an opponents hand, the randomness is what makes it so strong. Casting this on turn 2 makes me feel frickin awesome as well. Liliana of the Veil is not just a way to discard but also a win condition in her own right. She can make your opponents sac their creatures, as well as help strip their hand. If they don’t deal with her, she can also wreck her board. She is mostly used to keep your opponents hand sizes down, and to make them sac creatures when needed.
Removal is important to stop you dying, obviously, but also to get blockers out of the way for Jeleva. We have spot removal for annoying utility creatures as well as the big beaters that are trying to kill us, and wraths for smaller creatures, especially in the Elves and Animar matchups, and the increasingly popular Naya zoo decks using the two new commanders.Dismemeber is basically a 1 mana removal spell, or at least that’s how it’s cast most often. It is a bit painful to cast it that way, but you can in a pinch. It also gets around indestructible. If you really feel like it, you can cast it for 3 mana too, though personally, I never feel like I’m really casting Dismember properly unless I’m playing 4 life. Hero’s Downfall, Doom Blade and Go for the Throat are our spot removal to take care of any creatures we want to die. Hero’s Downfall has the added bonus of killing planeswalkers too, which is nice because planeswalkers are mean when they aren’t yours. Damnation is our general board wipe to clear everything away and make our opponents start again. With so few creatures, we rarely care about killing our own, especially as we normally win through just Jeleva. Turn // Burn is a sweet new removal spell that kills all the annoying creatures with Indestructible, as well as being useful to either just Burn a small creature, or Turn a utility creature to slow them down a turn. Toxic Deluge. Now this is a sweet new card. This is one of the new cards from one of the other commander decks, and it’s pretty darn good. A 3 mana wrath that gets rid of all the annoying creatures like Gaddok Teeg at the cost of a bit of life. It also gets around indestructible and regenerate. Chaos Warp is included as it can hit any permanent, including pesky planeswalkers or annoying enchantments. It’s this decks only real form of enchantment removal, which can be annoying at times, but Grixis doesn’t have access to much enchantment removal. As annoying as it is when you flip an Emrakul off a Chaos Warp, it happens so rarely that it’s not really a downside, but it is something to think about when getting rid of annoying permanents. [card]Electrolyze[card] kills small creatures and replaces itself. It’s very good against decks with utility creatures and can help clear blockers if you are trying to win via Hatred. Blasphemous Act, Volcanic Fallout and Anger of the Gods are our red sweapers. They are here to help against Animar, Elves, and agro decks with small creatures. Blasphemous Act will often cast very little when you need to play it most which makes it very good. Anger of the Gods’ exile clause is very good against decks with graveyard interaction such as Iname. Volcanic Fallout was chosen not only because it can’t be countered, but it kills small creatures and not your commander if you have to cast it off of her ability, or while she is on the table. This can be very useful against animar or elf decks, or even just to kill utility creatures in other common decks.
ControlDystopia can just win against a lot of decks the moment it hits the battlefield, there are a lot of white and green creature based decks that have a hard time dealing with this card if they can’t destroy it quickly. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is the ultimate control tool, you can brainstorm FOR FREE every turn, what else do you need? I’ll tell you what else you might need, you might need to bounce a creature. Well with Jace you can do just that. You might also need to win the game, and if brainstorming for free each turn isn’t going to get you there, you can fateseal either yourself or you opponent until Jace reaches enough loyalty to ultimate him. Tamyio, the Moon Sage is basically Jace’s girlfriend. Well, she’s not, at all, but she works well with him in this deck. You can keep something tapped or draw a bunch of cards as needed, and if you manage to ultimate her, it’s pretty hard to lose. Stranglehold stops your opponents having fun, and in certain matchups, like Zur, it just shuts them down completely. Stopping opponent from searching libraries stops tutors, fetch lands, and a lot of utility that most decks include.
Utility CreaturesDark Confidant may seem risky in a deck with some very high cmc spells, but there are also enough ways to set up the top of your library that the card advantage provided shouldn’t be set off by the potential to kill yourself by flipping the wrong spell. It’s also nice to go out by your own terms if you are going to die anyway by putting Enter the Infinite on top for Dark Confidant to flip. Snapcaster Mage pretty much speaks for himself. He comes in and gives a spell flashback, hopefully ruining your opponents day, then attacks or blocks like a chump for a while. He has a million and one uses in this deck, and with Riptide Laboratory he only gets better. Vendilion Clique can help take key spells much like the discard spells discussed before, but he is also an efficient attacker or blocker in a pinch, and works well with Riptide Laboratory. Trinket Mage may seem like an odd inclusion with so few targets for his ability, but all of his targets can be very important in certain matchups. Most important is Expedition Map. Expedition Map can get Hall of the Bandit Lord for haste, Riptide Laboratory for protection and to reuse enter the battlefield effects, Cavern of Souls to help fight through counters, or to get mana fixing. Nihil Spellbomb can be powerful to fight graveyard strategies and is a decent target for Trinket Mage. Pithing Needle can shut down some commanders or utility creatures, Planeswalkers or equipment. Lastly, Elixir of Immortality can be very important to stop us from dying after casting Enter the Infinite if we are unable to win that turn. While that is a rare occurrence, things like Rule of Law can stop us from casting anything after casting Enter the Infinite. Notion Thief is a bit of a wildcard, but so far I have found him to be very good in some of our harder matchups. Having flash means at worst he is a surprise blocker, but against cards with lots of card draw he can be brutal. Flashing him in in response to a Glimpse of Nature draw to stop your opponents going off, or in response to a draw spell can really turn the game in your favour.
RampMox Diamond and Chrome Mox are included to help us get mana once we have cast Enter the Infinite. The card disadvantage means they are often not wonderful in the first few turns unless we need to get ahead of our opponents on mana, but with enough card draw the card disadvantage isn’t as relevant.
2 Signets and a Talismans make up the rest of our ramp, with Dimir Signet and Izzet Signet as well as Talisman of Dominance. These will help us get Jeleva out early in the games when it is okay to try to get her out as quick as possible, as well as help us ramp into some of the high cmc spells that are in the deck. Blue is our most important colour, followed by black, so I have included the blue signets and talisman. Including all 5 would be overkill, so I prioritized the blue producing artifacts.
Card Draw and Selection[card]Opportunity[card] draws you cards at instant speed, low enough mana cost that it is likely you can cast it, but high enough mana cost that you get far ahead when you can cast it for free and leave your mana open when cast with Jeleva. Brainstorm, Ponder, and Preordain are all useful to set yourself up to draw something relevant in the coming turns, or to set up before casting your commander. Brainstorm is useful to get something big out of your hand for Jeleva to exile, and all 3 are even more useful with shuffle effects in case you don’t want to draw the cards you left on top. Phyrexian Arena is blacks go-to source of card advantage, 1 life for an extra card each turn is not a lot at all, especially in a 30 life format. It’s often a good idea to tutor for this even before trying to set up Jeleva if you aren’t sure you can protect her. Demonic Tutor can find you whatever card you need at the minute, whether it is a counterspell or removal, or even another tutor to set up the top of your library. This is probably an auto include in almost every black deck, and as much as I hate starting a deck knowing there are cards that are too good not to include, tutors are key in a singleton format.
Shocks, Fetches, Duals, and Filter Lands are our main mana fixing, along with Command Tower. Playing every one of these available to us should be enough mana fixing to allow us to play some utility lands, as well as some basics to play around Blood Moon effects.Bojuka Bog, Cavern of Souls, Riptide Laboratory, Hall of the Bandit Lord and Wasteland are our utility lands, these are the most common targets for Expedition Map. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth helps us with colour fixing by making everything a swamp and therefore tap for black. It also allows Cabal Coffers to make a lot of mana and makes some of the higher cmc spells castable late game. Shizo, Death’s Storehouse can be used to give Jeleva fear which can be very important for the turn you cast hatred. Dreadship Reef and Molten Slagheap are two very good lands in this deck that don’t often see much play. They can let us add store counters at the end of turn if we have untapped mana, and use it later to cast some of the higher cmc spells. Watch out for land destruction on these after they have a few counters on them, however.
And that’s the deck in all its glory! It’s fast when you want it to be fast. It’s controlling when you want it to be controlling. it’s flexible and fun, and powerful. I think this is a pretty decent start at a Jeleva combo deck, but there is definitly some work to be done and some improvements that will only come through lots of playtesting. I have found that some match-ups I thought were bad for the deck initially are actually okay, you just need to learn when to go for the combo, and when to take control of the board.
The Polymorph Version
Another version I have been trying out uses Polymorph as another win condition. It gives up all the creatures in the deck in favour of Polymorph and Emrakul, the Aeon’s Torn. The idea is to cast Polymorph on Jeleva to turn her into Emrakul. I tested this idea for a while, but ultimately decided that there are better Polymorph decks (Kami of the Cresent Moon) and taking out all creatures was a bit too limiting. This could, however, be very effective in a certain meta where it is unexpected. I would recommend putting in some man lands as alternative Polymorph targets, as well as Tezzeret, the Seeker to not only replace Trinket Mage as a way to find your small artifacts, but to find Proteus Staff as another way to polymorph our commander. There will be room in the deck for a few more additions which could either be artifacts to help support Tezzeret, or some more counterspells and protection. The Tezzerat package itself isn’t even needed, it just lets you find the artifacts we included for Trinket Mage to find, you could take them out as well and have even more room for more card draw and counterspells.
This is another direction you could take the deck and in testing, it is very powerful and often unexpected. If I didn’t already play Kami Stasis/Polymorph as my main deck, I would probably have spent more time testing this version out, but I imagine at some point I will go back to it.
The Midrange Aproach
I am still also working on the midrange version I mentioned at the beginning. I think Jeleva is a strong commander, the key to her success will be to find the right balance in her deck and both midrange and combo decks appear to be very viable options for her. I decided to focus my initial building on the combo version, but I tested a midrange version as well that I feel also has a lot of potential.
The Midrange version used a lot of cheap, efficient creatures and utility creatures, as well as equipment. Creatures include: True-Name Nemesis, Thassa, Glen Alendra Atchmage, Venser, Shaper Savant, Baleful Strix, Mesmeric Fiend, Grim Lavamancer, Olivia Voldaren, Young Pyromancer and Shriekmaw, along with all the creatures in the combo version. Exactly which creatures to use is very flexible, but they should either be good utility creatures, or cheap and evasive like True-Name Nemesis. These are backed up by equipment like Sword of Feast and Famine and Sword of Fire and Ice, and Umezawa’s Jitte. Like most midrange decks, you cast your utility creatures and swing with them, and back them up with removal and counterspells. I also like Chandra, Pyromaster in this version, as you can use the top of library tutors to set up her -2 ability, and her +1 ability is a lot more relevant when you have creatures you are trying to get in for combat damage.
So where does Jeleva come in? Jeleva’s use in this deck is as a source of card advantage. Setting up the top of your library is a lot less important in this version of the deck, though when you can it’s still best to try and make sure you have a powerful spell there. The deck is loaded with card draw as in the combo version, as well as more removal to get rid of blockers, and cards like Plague Wind and Cruel UItimatum to wreck you opponents board. Instead of the red sweepers from the combo deck, this version will use cards like Mizzium Mortars which leave your side of the board intact. The most important part of this deck for Jeleva however is time magic. This version of the deck plays Time Warp, Temporal Manipulation, and Capture of Jingzhou, to take extra turns, which leads to extra combat damage and card draw. Time Stretch and Din of the Fireherd join our big spells to try and exile with Jeleva. Man Lands are very good in this version of the deck, along with sac outlets like High Market to get more value out of Jeleva once she has cast everything she has exiled.
My midrange decklist is still very much a work in progress as it is even more important in this version to find a balance not only between creatures and instants/sorceries to exile with Jeleva, but the right amount of top of deck manipulation and tutors, and cheap spells you can cast early and powerful spells to get the most out of Jeleva. This version arguably has even more potential than the combo version of the deck, but it will also require a lot more testing and tweaking to get a strong list together, which is something I plan on working in the next few months.
Building for Multiplayer
Jeleva can be a very strong commander in multiplayer as well as in Duel Commander. To tune her for multiplayer, you can afford to have some much higher mana cost spells in your deck, as games typically go on longer so you are more likely to hard cast them. From the deck list I suggested for Duel Commander, I would cut all the discard and replace it with Vampiric Tutor, Sensei’s Divining Top, Sol Ring/Mana Crypt for ramp, and some bigger spells like Blatant Thievery. The combo win condition is still very viable in multiplayer, though you will have more opponents trying to kill Jeleva, so make sure you protect her. Hatred is still a nice way to one-shot opponents, but you will only be able to take out on player that way. You can add in extra combat step spells, but most of them have been erata’d to only work during your main phase. Curse of Cabal is another ‘fun’ card that I would be tempted to run in multiplayer. I would also possibly run some more card draw in the form of Rhystic Study which is great in multiplayer. Some more creatures could also be added, such as Consecrated Sphinx (for the awesome card draw), Talrand, Sky Summoner (to build an army when casting so many spells), and Tidespout Tyrant (for the sheer power of bounce, and to make infinite colourless mana with Sol Ring and Mana Crypt.) If there is still room, some Signets or Keyrunes could help with ramp and mana fixing. Laboratory Maniac could also be used as another way to win after Enter the Infinite by casting him and then drawing some cards.
I hope this post inspires you to try Jeleva out in both Duel Commander and Multiplayer. I think she was very overlooked at first as people saw her as a worse, more random, version of Zur, but she can be very different depending on your build. With the right balance, she could be a very strong commander for a combo deck or a midrange deck, and there are still a lot of options I haven’t even explored yet. She isn’t an easy commander to build around or pilot, but she is definitely interesting and challenging, which is something I enjoy about commanders. Decks that build themselves excite me far less than decks you can personalize and tweak according the the meta.
It will take a while to figure out how to best use Jeleva, but I expect to see some decent tournament finishes when someone finally does.
Later on this week we will have a look at the other half of the Mind Seize deck, Nekusar, the Mindrazer! And next week we’ll look at another Commander 2013 deck all together.