The last time I wrote about my Firja, Judge of Valor Artisan Commander deck, we had just graduated from Strixhaven, and struck out on an adventure in the Forgotten Realms. Since then, we’ve seen the sun set on Innistrad, crashed a wedding, bathed in the neon glow of Kamigawa, and brokered a deal with the families of New Capenna.

It’s been a busy few months.

So what’s changed for Firja? Well, I’m happy to say that despite over nine hundred new commons and uncommons to choose from, the deck is still basically the same. Granted, a full thirteen percent of it is different, but the changes have proven to be more of a polish than an overhaul.

Valor of Peasants (5.22)


Deck by Ben Iverach-Brereton


I discovered how much this deck relied on Firja when an opponent gained control of her one night. Unable to get her back, I spent most of that game spinning my wheels. Getting to Ransack the Lab every turn is very good, and when I lost access to that ability, I didn’t have a good way to keep up with the rest of the table.

This was probably the biggest catalyst for changing the deck. I knew I needed to rework it so that I could hold my own without my commander. This meant finding other sources of card advantage and leaning into the “unfair” things the deck could do—notably expanding on its reanimator package. The mana also needed some work; I had too many lands coming in tapped, or making colourless mana and it was starting to get in the way. I saw that I had several low-impact spells that could easily be cut to make room, and between collecting the new sets and scouring my collection, I had no shortage of options to replace them.


Artisan decks don’t have the best colour-fixing. Without access to rare lands, you always have to choose between a land that only adds a single colour, or one that enters the battlefield tapped. Striking a balance between the two can be tricky, and sometimes it means having to give up on some fun utility lands in favour of more basics.

Basics are untapped lands that give you the colours you need. Sure they don’t put counters on your creatures, or return cards from your graveyard, but if they let you cast your spells on time it’s often much better. I frequently fall into the trap of cutting basics for more interesting lands. That was certainly the case here, and cutting four utility lands for basic lands was a marked improvement. With more untapped mana sources, I was able to play my spells earlier.

This also cut down on the number of colourless lands I was using. Doing this can make a big difference if you’re struggling with colour fixing. Of course, the other half of that equation is your choice of spells….

Take Sign in Blood, for instance. It’s a great card. So is Night’s Whisper. The latter isn’t as flexible: it can’t finish off an opponent in spectacular fashion, which is disappointing. That’s a fringe case, though, and having a less colour-intensive casting cost is a huge boon. It’s especially relevant if you’re trying to cast multiple spells in a turn, like I am with Firja.

By needing one less black mana, Night’s Whisper gives you more options for what you can cast alongside it. It also makes your colourless mana sources more valuable, since they can help pay for the spell. It also means you can cast it more consistently in the early game. For cheap draw spells this can be huge, since they’re often used to draw into more mana sources. Sign in Blood can technically do that too, but the second black pip can be surprisingly restrictive.

Cantrip Creatures

If you’re like me, you enjoy blinking and bouncing creatures. If it’s part of your game plan, you probably want a few cantrip creatures to generate card advantage. A cheap 1/1 like Spirited Companion is great, though I’ve found that it’s often better (in Commander, at least) for these creatures to have more power and toughness.

Phyrexian Rager has been a go-to creature for black Pauper decks for years, and I was happy to include it here too. That said, when a card like Inspiring Overseer comes along, it’s hard not to take notice.

I seriously considered Skyscanner for this slot; the little flying artifact creature puts in a lot of work in my other decks, and it’s always been fun in Limited. But like I said, I wanted a creature that would have more of an impact on combat. Hence why Phyrexian Rager won out initially with its 2/2 body. Inspiring Overseer doesn’t have much toughness, but it does have the same power. This, combined with being an evasive threat or blocker was too good to turn down; so many Commander games come down to who has a flying creature and who’s stuck on the ground, and Phyrexian Rager often sits on the sidelines, unable to attack. I didn’t feel like I had room to run both, so it was sadly time to say goodbye to the Horror.

Besides, blinking and bouncing Inspiring Overseer is a lot less painful to do!

The only real downside to using the Overseer instead of the Rager is that it can’t be bounced with Skull Collector. I have no shortage of other black creatures for that, mind you, like my newly acquired Fell Stinger. Not only does this deathtouch scorpion draw cards when it comes into play, but the “cost” of sacrificing a creature to exploit is actually pretty handy.

I’m hesitant to consider Fell Stinger another replacement for Phyrexian Rager, because the exploit clause is not insignificant. This deck doesn’t always have a string of extra bodies to throw away, and Fell Stinger can get a bit awkward in those situations. This is especially true when I have a hand full of blink effects and don’t want to whittle away my board. The Stinger is still quite good, but it fills a slightly different niche than the other cantrip creatures.

All that being said, the real all-star in terms of new card advantage has got to be Rumor Gatherer. Passively, she gives you plenty of card selection, and it doesn’t take much effort for her to draw you an extra card each turn.

She’s especially consistent with the likes of Kor Skyfisher and Whitemane Lion. If you add tokens into the mix from Oketra’s Monument or Stormfront Riders, you’ll soon have your hands full. Notably, Rumor Gatherer can draw that card on any player’s turn, not just your own. Bear that in mind if you ever have her in play; you can probably grind a few more cards that way.

The Grave Gravy

Firja does a good job filling the graveyard. This list was already making decent use of that fact, but I knew it could do more. I was hesitant, because I didn’t want this to become a full-on reanimator deck at the expense of other strategies, but I also knew that cheating out a big threat would be the easiest way to get back into a game when falling behind.

Looking over my list, I was already running Unburial Rites, Dread Return and Young Necromancer, so I was already doing reanimator things; I just didn’t have much to bring back. Angel of Despair was the big hit, with Sandstone Oracle being a pretty good backup. That was about it, though. If I was going to lean into this strategy more, I’d want at least one more big, impactful threat.

Cue Archfiend of Sorrows. A one-sided Massacre on a stick is pretty useful, especially when that stick has flying. What’s more, it can unearth itself in a pinch for a one-time effect. Now you might be thinking that three big reanimation targets doesn’t seem like much, but the plethora of tutors I have in the list means they’re never far from hand. Vile Entomber and Final Parting even put them directly into the graveyard!

After some thought, I decided to round out my reanimation suite with one more gem from Modern Horizons 2: Graceful Restoration. At first glance it doesn’t seem all that amazing, but when I counted how many creatures in my list have 2 power or less I was surprised. Twenty-five of those creatures (including Firja) meant that this Restoration would be a solid way to grind out value. I could have taken this idea a step further by adding Victimize or Blood for Bones, but this seemed sufficient. At least for now.

This was coming along, but there was still one piece missing from this equation. I wanted more things to do from my graveyard that would play into this deck’s various strategies, and the former Standard all-star Haunted Dead checked all the boxes.

Milling over Haunted Dead with Firja gives you a tidy, mana efficient play. It’s also a way to discard bigger threats to reanimate, and can be blinked to make more spirit tokens. It’s even a recursive body that can chump block or be sacrificed. It looks like a fairly innocuous card, but there’s a reason it saw as much play as it did.

I have to say, I’m pleased that none of my new additions feel out of place, or like they’re pushing the deck in a different direction. This list feels a lot smoother and more consistent to pilot now, all while doing the same durdly nonsense as it did before. I’m not sure how much my friends enjoy seeing me recast the same Bone Shredder turn after turn, but if that’s the worst thing I’m doing, I think they’ll be fine.

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