The Power of Sultai in C20
This year giveth, and it taketh away. While we’re all stuck at home, Magic The Gathering is restricted to Arena, MTGO or using a webcam to stream your table to others. Despite this, our need for brewing and new Commander decks will keep us going and with the upcoming release of Commander 2020 and Ikoria, we have to see how the new set stacks up for our beloved format! We're going to start things off with the full decklists we have available, so let’s see how the decks this year stack up! We’ll be looking at out of the box power level, synergy, upgradability, and overall card value to judge them. Let’s start with the Sultai Mutate deck.
Commander: Otrimi, the Ever-Playful
Colours: Sultai (Black, Green, Blue)
Core Theme(s): Mutate/Hydras
The build of this one certainly is strange. It relies heavily on two things, big mana plays through spells with X in the mana cost (Hydras and high-value cards like Villainous Wealth), and payoffs for using creatures with the Mutate mechanic (as per the Commander’s textbox of bringing back creatures with Mutate from the graveyard).
The amount of ramp in the deck is rather low with roughly eleven cards to help your mana (which includes the obligatory Sol Ring and Arcane Signet in this deck). For a deck that has a starting mana cost of two( once you discount spells with X in them and Sol Ring) the ability to generate mana is a letdown. This can be partially solved by placing Zaxara, the Exemplary in the Command Zone. However, the ability to take advantage of the Mutate mechanic leaves with Otrimi.
Another big problem with the ramp in this deck is the quality of it. There’s only one piece of two mana ramp (Arcane Signet), and the rest require rather high mana investments for insufficient returns. For example; Fertilid requires five mana to get one land from it, seven to get two. The most interesting ramp card in the deck outside of mana rocks is potentially Migratory Greathorn, but it requires a creature to have been played on turn two just to curve out, and to get the maximum value out of it you want to have several low mana cost Mutate cards to follow it up with. Unfortunately, this deck just doesn’t have the capacity for this as it currently stands. Ramp cards need to be powerful without needing further enablers as they are a key enabler for your deck. This is one of the first aspects of the deck that requires upgrading for most players. The next part would be the focusing of the theme itself.
The actual mana in this deck is also rather rough. With 37 total lands, eleven of them are basic Forests resulting in almost 30% of the mana base tapping just for green in a three colour mana base. While green is a dominant colour out of the box, eleven sources that tap for blue (not counting Exotic Orchard) seems questionable in a deck that wants to see untapped blue mana by turn three and has a card with two blue in the casting cost. Black seems better off with fifteen sources in the deck but still isn’t going to lead to very consistent games without ramp that will put lands from your library onto the field. I also can’t say I agree with the inclusion of Endless Sands as it doesn’t seem to benefit the deck well and hurts the mana base further. Soaring Seacliff also seems less than ideal in a mana base that needs more untapped sources.
There are only fifteen cards with the Mutate keyword in the deck, with one being the Command Zone. The ability of the Commander itself is on an extremely low power level out of the box, offering little to no value to the player. Most players will be better off switching Otrimi out for either the two Partner Commanders that come in the deck; Ukkima, Stalking Shadow and Cazur, Ruthless Stalker, or the other legendary creature Zaxara, the Exemplary.
Ukkima & Cazur
While not powerful with the preconstructed deck, Ukkima and Cazur hold potential for upgrading with either Commander damage from Ukkima or perhaps a Sultai Ninja deck taking advantage of unblockable effects. They sit at a higher overall power level than Otrimi for the deck and can take advantage of the Mutate mechanic much more effectively.
Zaxara, the Exemplary
Zaxara, the Exemplary also sits in a very confusing position in this deck. While a potentially powerful Commander for Hydra tribal, the deck remains a confusing mess between Hydras, Mutate and Sultai good stuff. In the end, the deck doesn’t do anything particularly well and won’t be able to set up or maintain a powerful board state for most Commander tables while having one of the more disappointing Commanders of the set.
As a result of how messy the list is, the power level of the deck is relatively low out of the box, regardless of which Commander you put in the Command Zone. It tries to make up for this with some more effective removal than most Commander decks receive, but it can’t solve the problems here. This part also helps the overall value of the deck with the printing of Deadly Rollick. The pre-order price on the card at the time of writing was CAD $16.99 making up a large chunk of the deck itself. As well, Manascape Refractor could stand to be a powerful addition to both Commander and Legacy but stands at a lower pre-order price of CAD $8.99. I believe both of these cards could stand to hold some serious long term value, but the rest of the deck struggles to cover the remainder. The legendary foils will hold most of the remaining value but outside of Propaganda the deck is lacking in format staples or just higher quality reprints.
In terms of new cards added to the Commander format, the aforementioned Deadly Rollick and Manascape Refractor are the shiny new toys, but there are certainly some other additions. Bonder’s Ornament is one that I’m personally interested in. While potentially, less powerful than Commander's Sphere, recurrable card draw on an artifact carries some interesting effects on the game. In decks that would be running effects similar to Training Grounds with the ability to just sink your mana into every turn holds potential. Not a groundbreaking card, but a mana fixer that doubles as a place to put your mana later in the game could be better than Commander's Sphere in a number of decks. The drawback for opponents being able to draw cards is unfortunate but it isn’t too much of a threat in a 100 card singleton format. As well, this card should hold up as a very budget-friendly card being printed in all five decks. Let’s focus on some of the other new cards exclusive to this deck.
I really have to put an emphasis on how mediocre Capricopian is. It is simply a mediocre mana sink that will likely only have a home in Hydra tribal lists. At its absolute best, this card is going to be hitting a player that just assisted you because you have no real control over which player this card is hitting. At worst it will be blocked by a 0/1 Plant token. Neither of those seems like the best thing you can do with a card slot in Commander. I would consider this an auto cut unless you’re hoping to go the route of building this with Zaxara as your Commander, but even then I find it hard to believe you wouldn’t be able to find a better card for this slot.
If someone could please explain to me why Boneyard Mycodrax isn’t in the Kathril, Aspect Warper deck please enlighten me. An interesting new scavenge card that accomplishes a strong payoff for decks that want all their creatures in the graveyard like Karador, Ghost Chieftain or Sidisi, Brood Tyrant while remaining a budget-friendly card. In this list, there are very few ways to put this into your graveyard and very little possible payoff for it.
Tidal Barracuda is a card a lot of people are paying attention to right now. At the time of writing, preorders on the card sits at $8.99 with a lot of people thinking it might be their next copy of Leyline of Anticipation. Now while giving your spells flash is strong, the fact that this effect is symmetrical might hinder this card greatly. If you’re not able to immediately gain some value off this card with a Seedborn Muse or similar effect, your opponents are likely just going to take advantage of it and then swiftly deal with it. The card’s main saving grace is the fact that it has Grand Abolisher printed on it. Only time will tell with this card but I remain skeptical of its overall power level.
There are a few creatures with Mutate being printed exclusively in this commander set as opposed to through Ikoria. One of those is Souvenir Snatcher. The ability to steal Sol Rings from your opponents and then repeat this effect on every mutation of this creature holds some power. It’s hard to judge Mutate cards with so few being available in the format, but if Wizards continues to print more Mutate cards in the coming sets, this could stand to be an interesting inclusion. The high mana cost of it is the main component keeping this card down. Hopefully, time will be kind to this card and we’ll see it be played in future iterations of the Mutate deck.
The other two mutate cards are Mindleecher and Sawtusk Demolisher. Sawtusk Demolisher gives you a Beast Within on each mutation, and Mindleecher gives you Nightveil Specter on mutations. Both of which are strong effects but extremely high on the curve sitting in a similar spot as Souvenir Snatcher. They seem like solid pickups at launch while they’re cheap as the roof on them could be quite high. They’ll remain budget cards until Mutate is re-explored by Wizards.
The last of the more interesting new cards is Dredge the Mire (because the goad enchantments are bad and we’ll be skipping over them). A card that will often read “Steal multiple Llanowar Elves from your opponents.” The fact is that whenever your opponents get to choose what you’re given, you’ll get the worst possible options. The only time this card will be working out well for you is if you can play it early against a reanimator deck that doesn’t have anything but good cards in the graveyard, or you’re doing something really special with your table politics. Like most of the other new cards featured in this deck, the floor is just too low for this card to see heavy play.
Upgrading the Deck
Unfortunately, this decklist out of the box just doesn’t hold up. Upgrading the deck is where you’ll likely find the power in the Commanders. If you wish to use Otrimi, then our very own SirSimic has a potential list for you that maintains a cheaper budget than a high number of lists I’ve seen roaming around while maintaining a higher power level. If you replace any card that costs CAD$9.99 or more with a more budget alternative, you can probably acquire this list which will run effectively at most tables for CAD$150 or less.
Otrimi and Friends
The other two options for Commanders in the deck face a similar fate. They require more focused lists which the deck just can’t handle out of the box, but the path of upgrading remains an interesting one. Choose your favourite theme/style out of the ones offered and proceed to upgrade based on that. There’s some variety to choose from there but it’s a shame the deck had to be a mess for this. If you are upgrading on a budget, start by cutting some of the higher end on the mana curve and add some more efficient ramp spells while rebalancing the mana base.
Overall this is a rather big let down that won’t offer the experience players deserve out of a preconstructed deck and should look to the other decks or older preconstructed decks if an option. Next up, I’ll be breaking down the Abzan Commander deck called Symbiotic Swarm all about various keyword counters! It has Hornet Queen in it so it can’t be too bad right? Until next time!