Rant of Valakut: A Tale of Two Thalias

Since I first wrote about my deck featuring Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, it has undergone a number of changes to improve on its enter-the-battlefield synergies. Kaladesh had several great tools for it, and I even found some good additions in Amonkhet. It’s still very much the same creature-heavy deck that it’s always been, but I’ve had to cut a few cards to make room for these new ones, and the decisions weren’t always that easy.

 

I added some non-creature cards like Panharmonicon and Oketra’s Monument, potentially very powerful effects, but with the ‘tax’ effects from cards like Glowrider and Vryn Wingmare those artifacts would cost more to cast. I decided to replace the Rider and Wingmare with other more synergistic cards like Felidar Guardian, but that didn’t solve everything. I almost always cast my commander, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben on turn 2 when using this deck, but with her in play I then struggle to get my artifacts into play. Finding enough lands to cast them in a timely manner can be difficult to do to begin with, even before they cost more than normal. While this does mean my opponents are similarly hampered, it caused more trouble for me than I initially had planned.

 

I probably would have just lived with this problem, since Thalia, Guardian of Thraben was the whole reason I built this deck in the first place, but with the printing of Thalia, Heretic Cathar in Shadows Over Innistrad I began to wonder if it might be time for a change. I felt weird about changing commanders for one of my decks, since I had never done so before. It felt a bit like a betrayal; I have grown attached to my commanders, and they are each so much at the heart of my decks that it seemed wrong to replace them. And yet, here was this new legendary creature that looked better for the deck; she would still hamper my opponents, but she wouldn’t disrupt my deck in any way. What was I to do? Could I replace Thalia with Thalia and still be ok with it?

 

Characters with multiple legendary creatures representing them are a tricky bunch. By the rules, there is nothing to stop you from having, say, Mikaeus the Unhallowed and Mikaeus, the Lunarch in play at the same time, but it feels really weird to do so. Now, I’m generally pretty flexible when it comes to flavour, so I’m happy enough including an Eldrazi Displacer and a Springjack Shepherd in the same deck, even though they come from different planes and would never work side by side. That said, mechanically they go very well together, and if I need to find some way to justify having them in the same deck, I can do so. When deck building, the mechanics far outweigh the flavour for me. At least, they do most of the time.

 

When it comes to multiple legendary creatures representing the same individual, for some reason it bothers me to no end. Perhaps part of my problem is because there is already a mechanic that restricts legendary permanents on the battlefield and it feels like a bit of a cheat to have both versions out at once. Maybe it’s the same sort of mental quirk that made me play unique basic lands in my commander decks. Whatever causes it, it is nonetheless something I struggle to overcome; for commander in particular, it feels like I shouldn’t even have them both in the same deck!

 

When it came to the sphinx Isperia, for example, I was torn. As you may already know, I have a commander deck led by Isperia, the Inscrutable, and so when Return to Ravnica first came out I decided to try adding Isperia, Supreme Judge into the deck alongside her original version. After trying both versions of the guild leader in the same deck, sometimes searching for the Supreme Judge with her past self, I kept getting this nagging feeling that something wasn’t right. I was physically uncomfortable whenever I had both legendary creatures in play, to a point where I began dreading even seeing the Supreme Judge in my hand while Isperia, the Inscrutable was in my command zone. I quickly found that it just wasn’t worth the discomfort caused by having two versions of the same character in the same deck, and I replaced the Supreme Judge.

 

With all that said, perhaps it was time to use this legendary mental block to my advantage. Looking back at the two Thalias, the fact that they were both the same character meant that they were, in my mind, somewhat interchangable. If the new legendary creature had been any other character I probably wouldn’t have even considered changing commanders for my deck, but just like how I couldn’t bring myself to include two different versions of the same character in a deck, swapping one Thalia for another didn’t really feel like I was changing anything. This would still be the same character leading my army, just… older.

It took me a while as I contemplated making the change, and after much internal debate finally decided that I was ok with it. Trying out the Heretic Cathar, I was actually impressed at how much smoother the deck now played. Despite there being only a few cards in the deck that were affected by Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, without her ‘tax’ I could sequence my plays much more easily, and I could get those powerful artifacts out much earlier and with much less stress.

Switching over to the Heretic Cathar has had several other benefits; because she forces my opponents’ creatures to enter the battlefield tapped, I’m at much less risk of being blindsided by a threat with haste, giving everyone at the table at least one turn to deal with such a threat. Cards that destroy tapped creatures, like Sunblast Angel, have also become much stronger, since I won’t have to wait for my opponets to attack; I might even be able to use the Angel to deal with a vigilant threat. Offensively, the Heretic Cathar also allows me to build up an army quickly and still get an attack in before my opponents flood the battlefield with blockers, and I don’t have to be as worried about surprise blockers ruining my plans.

I think one of the most interesting parts about using the Heretic Cathar is actually how well it scales with my opponents’ decks. Where the Guardian of Thraben did well to punish everyone, the new Thalia is actually a bit more forgiving for players using budget options for their lands, while players with better mana sources will struggle more. Since a lot of the cheaper options for nonbasic lands are ones that come into play tapped anyway, players whose decks are built using cards like the guildgates won’t be as bothered by the Heretic Cathar as players who have cards like the original dual lands, or fetchlands. This means that my new commander could help level the playing field in a game with a mix of power levels; newer or more casual players won’t be as hampered as the more competitive ones. I like the idea of giving the underdog at the table a bit more of a fighting chance, and the Heretic Cathar is much more suited to that than the Guardian of Thraben was.

Overall, I have to say that I’m actually really happy with all of the changes I’ve made to this deck. It’s feeling more focused now that I’ve cut the ‘tax’ cards, and the new commander is looking like a much better fit. That said, I’m glad that I still have the same character leading my army; Thalia may have her faults, but I really would have missed having her fighting at my side. It just wouldn’t be the same without her.

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