Rant of Valakut: Izzet Any Better? Ben Iverach-Brereton February 25, 2019 Rants of Valakut About two years ago I built a red-blue Commander deck featuring Jori En, Ruin Diver. It focused on casting a flurry of cheap, repeatable instant and sorcery spells to generate tokens, deal damage, and draw extra cards. It has become one of my favourite Commander decks, and has performed remarkably well over the years. Games are grindy, but if I can make things go on long enough this deck can outlast pretty much anything short of an infinite combo. I first built the deck shortly after Oath of the Gatewatch came out, and made a few tweaks to it with the release of Shadows Over Innistrad. I wrote an article about the deck in November of 2016, shortly after Eldritch Moon came out. Since then we’ve seen a card or two in every set that cares about casting instant and sorcery spells. Recently we had a whole slew of these cards see print with the Izzet guild, like Murmuring Mystic and Electrostatic Field. If I didn’t have options for this deck before, I sure do now! As with any of my Commander decks I’m constantly making little tweaks to Jori En. It gives me a chance to try out some of the new cards, or to dig up some forgotten gem from ages past that I missed. Sometimes this constant tinkering has almost completely altered how a deck functions, but not with this one; every change has refined the deck’s strategy, not changed it. I was pretty happy with how the deck played from the very beginning, but I think I’m even happier with it now; I removed some of the clunkier picks, like Pyre Hound and Soulblade Djinn, and replaced them with tools to help smooth games out. Here’s My List from Two Years Ago: Creature1 x Archaeomancer1 x Charmbreaker Devils1 x Chasm Skulker1 x Dualcaster Mage1 x Elusive Spellfist1 x Gelectrode1 x Goblin Electromancer1 x Guttersnipe1 x Illusory Ambusher1 x Izzet Staticaster1 x Jhessian Thief1 x Lunar Mystic1 x Mercurial Chemister1 x Mercurial Geists1 x Mizzium Meddler1 x Mnemonic Wall1 x Niblis of Frost1 x Nivix Guildmage1 x Psychosis Crawler1 x Pyre Hound1 x Silumgar Sorcerer1 x Soulblade Djinn1 x Talrand, Sky Summoner1 x Thermo-Alchemist1 x Weaver of Lightning1 x Young Pyromancer Enchantment1 x Jace’s Sanctum1 x Metallurgic Summonings1 x Pyromancer’s Assault1 x Trail of Evidence Artifact1 x Commander’s Sphere1 x Izzet Signet1 x Sol Ring1 x Thought Vessel Land1 x Command Tower1 x Desolate Lighthouse1 x Forgotten Cave1 x Ghost Quarter1 x Highland Lake11 x Island (335)1 x Izzet Boilerworks1 x Izzet Guildgate1 x Lonely Sandbar9 x Mountain (343)1 x Myriad Landscape1 x Reliquary Tower1 x Shivan Reef1 x Steam Vents1 x Swiftwater Cliffs1 x Temple of Epiphany1 x Temple of the False God1 x Terramorphic Expanse1 x Wandering Fumarole1 x Warped Landscape Instant1 x AEther Tradewinds1 x AEtherize1 x Capsize1 x Forbid1 x Hour of Need1 x Impulse1 x Mystic Confluence1 x Oona’s Grace1 x Prophetic Bolt1 x Rapid Hybridization1 x Scour from Existence1 x Think Twice Sorcery1 x Blasphemous Act1 x Call to Mind1 x Chain Reaction1 x Curse of the Swine1 x Deep Analysis1 x Empty the Warrens1 x Flame Jab1 x Gitaxian Probe1 x Mizzium Mortars1 x Mystic Retrieval1 x Mystic Speculation1 x Ponder1 x Stolen Identity1 x Treasure Cruise1 x Volcanic Vision Buy This List Here’s My Current List: Commander1 x Jori En, Ruin Diver Creature1 x Archaeomancer1 x Baral, Chief of Compliance1 x Bloodwater Entity1 x Chasm Skulker1 x Electrostatic Field1 x Firebrand Archer1 x Gelectrode1 x Goblin Electromancer1 x Guttersnipe1 x Izzet Staticaster1 x Jhessian Thief1 x Mercurial Chemister1 x Mnemonic Wall1 x Murmuring Mystic1 x Niblis of Frost1 x Nivix Guildmage1 x Talrand, Sky Summoner1 x Wee Dragonauts1 x Young Pyromancer Instant1 x AEther Tradewinds1 x AEtherize1 x Capsize1 x Cyclonic Rift1 x Disallow1 x Forbid1 x Hour of Need1 x Impulse1 x Long-Term Plans1 x Mystic Confluence1 x Mystical Tutor1 x Oona’s Grace1 x Prophetic Bolt1 x Rapid Hybridization1 x Supreme Will1 x Think Twice Sorcery1 x Blasphemous Act1 x Chain Reaction1 x Curse of the Swine1 x Deep Analysis1 x Empty the Warrens1 x Flame Jab1 x Gitaxian Probe1 x Mizzium Mortars1 x Mystic Retrieval1 x Mystic Speculation1 x Ponder1 x Preordain1 x Quasiduplicate1 x Stolen Identity1 x Treasure Cruise1 x Volcanic Vision Artifact1 x Commander’s Sphere1 x Izzet Signet1 x Primal Amulet // Primal Wellspring1 x Sentinel Tower1 x Sol Ring1 x Tablet of the Guilds1 x Thought Vessel Enchantment1 x Metallurgic Summonings1 x Pyromancer’s Assault1 x Trail of Evidence Land1 x Ash Barrens1 x Command Tower1 x Desolate Lighthouse1 x Forgotten Cave1 x Ghost Quarter1 x Highland Lake11 x Island (335)1 x Izzet Boilerworks1 x Izzet Guildgate1 x Lonely Sandbar9 x Mountain (343)1 x Myriad Landscape1 x Reliquary Tower1 x Shivan Reef1 x Steam Vents1 x Swiftwater Cliffs1 x Temple of Epiphany1 x Temple of the False God1 x Terramorphic Expanse1 x Wandering Fumarole Buy This List Here’s a Summary of the Changes: Removed1 x Call to Mind1 x Charmbreaker Devils1 x Dualcaster Mage1 x Elusive Spellfist1 x Illusory Ambusher1 x Jace’s Sanctum1 x Lunar Mystic1 x Mercurial Geists1 x Mizzium Meddler1 x Psychosis Crawler1 x Pyre Hound1 x Scour from Existence1 x Silumgar Sorcerer1 x Soulblade Djinn1 x Thermo-Alchemist1 x Warped Landscape1 x Weaver of Lightning Added1 x Ash Barrens1 x Baral, Chief of Compliance1 x Bloodwater Entity1 x Cyclonic Rift1 x Disallow1 x Electrostatic Field1 x Firebrand Archer1 x Long-Term Plans1 x Murmuring Mystic1 x Mystical Tutor1 x Preordain1 x Primal Amulet // Primal Wellspring1 x Quasiduplicate1 x Sentinel Tower1 x Supreme Will1 x Tablet of the Guilds1 x Wee Dragonauts Buy This List Several of these changes were just upgrading a card for a better version, like Mercurial Geists for Wee Dragonauts. A few of the changes, though, pushed the deck in a slightly different direction, or helped shore up its weaknesses. The Changes: Removed: Mercurial Geists Added: Wee Dragonauts The difference between three mana and four is a lot, and while Wee Dragonauts doesn’t hit quite as hard as the Geists they are still an evasive Prowess-like threat, which is the important thing. Moreover, by opting for the creature with a cheaper mana cost it makes it much easier to toss out two spells in one turn, triggering Jori En. Removed: Thermo-Alchemist Added: Electrostatic Field In a vacuum, Thermo-Alchemist is almost certainly a better card than Electrostatic Field, but in Commander I am less convinced. While it’s true that the Alchemist is guaranteed to deal damage each round, the fact that it needs to tap to do anything makes it frustratingly slow in this format. In a four player game the Alchemist has to survive three whole turns just to deal a single point of damage, whereas the Field can trigger immediately. In a format dominated by board sweepers, getting an immediate benefit from a creature is huge. Removed: Call to Mind Added: Long-Term Plans Call to Mind is redundant in a deck that has about five other ways of returning spells from my graveyard. Volcanic Vision and Mystic Retrieval do the same thing only better, and the creatures that do this can be used to loop certain spells. Long-Term Plans has the same mana cost, but can find any card I need. Yes, it puts it third from the top of my library, but the deck runs enough draw spells that getting to that third card is trivial. Having the flexibility to hunt down either a payoff card, like Young Pyromancer, or an enabler, like Flame Jab, is also very powerful. Removed: Psychosis Crawler Added: Sentinel Tower I love Psychosis Crawler; it’s a great win condition for a deck that loves to sit back and spin its wheels. Unfortunately, while this deck can draw a lot of cards, it does so piecemeal. Spreading out my card draw over several turns greatly diminishes the effectiveness of the Crawler by opening it up to the threat of removal. In contrast, Chasm Skulker can at least leave some tokens behind if it’s destroyed. If I had cards like Pull from Tomorrow or Blue Sun’s Zenith it might be a different story for Psychosis Crawler, but those big draw spells don’t fit with what the deck wants to do. Sentinel Tower can fill a similar role as the Crawler, but has a few advantages: not only is it a non-creature threat, making it more resilient, but it can also destroy my opponents’ creatures and planeswalkers if need be. Removed: Charmbreaker Devils Added: Tablet of the Guilds There are three major issues I have with Charmbreaker Devils: they cost a lot of mana, don’t do anything until your next upkeep, and aren’t guaranteed to get back the card you need. While it’s true that they can run away with a game if left unchecked, that is also true of several other cards in the deck, like Capsize or Guttersnipe. Tablet of the Guilds helps defend the deck against gradual chip damage and can give me a buffer against big attacks. In long, drawn-out games having no way to recover life has left me very vulnerable more than once. While “lucky charm” artifacts that only gain you life are usually very underwhelming, this deck can cast enough spells in one turn that the Tablet can quickly heal a sizable chunk of life. That can make the difference between losing the game in one big hit and staying alive. Aetherflux Resevoir may be the smarter choice for this role, but I find that card unpleasant enough to play against that I would rather not include it in my deck. Removed: Silumgar Sorcerer Added: Disallow Silumgar Sorcerer was always meant to serve as a counterspell with some upside, but more often than not it would sacrifice itself to it’s own trigger or would be unable to counter a key noncreature spell. Disallow isn’t as flashy, but it can counter anything. That kind of flexibility in a counterspell makes me feel very safe, especially knowing that even if a combo relies entirely on an activated or triggered ability Disallow can stop it. What’s more, this deck can’t get creatures back from its graveyard, but it can return an instant. That makes recycling Disallow a whole lot easier than the Sorcerer. Removed: Illusory Ambusher Added: Supreme Will The point of this deck is largely to produce card advantage, then to win by looping the same spell over and over again. Illusory Ambusher can draw a lot of cards when pitted against the right archetypes, but against control or combo decks it doesn’t do much. Supreme Will, on the other hand, gives me some card selection or interaction, depending on what I need at the time. The Will may not generate any card advantage itself, but like Disallow, it is flexible and easy for this deck to get back from the graveyard. Removed: Dualcaster Mage Added: Primal Amulet Copying spells is often very powerful, but it loses a lot of its effectiveness when the spells being cast are so small. Dualcaster Mage is a great card, but not one that fits well in this specific deck. Instead I am happy to get my occasional spell doubling from a Nivix Guildmage or a transformed Primal Amulet, the latter also making my spells cheaper until flipped. Removed: Soulblade Djinn Added: Quasiduplicate Soulblade Djinn looks like a great inclusion in a spell slinger deck, and maybe if I produced more tokens it would be. As it stands, the Djinn always costs too much mana to commit to the board, and I am always better off playing something else. Quasiduplicate, on the other hand, is a cheap spell that lets me double-up on a key creature. With Jump-Start I can even cast it twice right away if I want, though with a deck filled with Archaeomancer and Mnemonic Wall creatures I would rather just bounce it back to my hand over and over, making an endless stream of walls. A part of me wishes I still had Dualcaster Mage in the deck to make an awkward Splinter-Twin-like combo, but it would be so hard to pull off I don’t feel it would be worth it. Removed: Scour from Existence Added: Cyclonic Rift A part of me hates Cyclonic Rift, but at the same time I recognize that it may be one of the most powerful cards in Commander. Being able to reset your opponents while keeping your own board safe, and all as an instant… there is a reason it sees so much play! Scour from Existence has always been fine, but seven mana is hard to justify when it only takes out one permanent. I was never unhappy with the spell, but for the same mana cost I can cast a one-sided sweeper. It is hard to argue with that, even if Cyclonic Rift is one of the most frustrating cards to play against. Removed: Warped Landscape Added: Ash Barrens There are a number of lands I could include in this deck to improve it, like Spirebluff Canal or Scalding Tarn, but as things stand I’m satisfied with the deck’s mana base without having to resort to more expensive options. Good Blue-Red lands generally cost a fair bit more to purchase, and while I have a couple of these better lands to spare I would rather save them for something like a Modern deck that can’t just make do with a Guildgate. Ash Barrens, however, is a nice, cost-effective option to replace Warped Landscape; the deck needed a land that could into play untapped but could also find my missing colour if I needed, and Ash Barrens does that significantly better than Warped Landscape. Pauper players were clearly on to something when they started playing this land! Removed: Jace’s Sanctum Added: Baral, Chief of Compliance By and large, the trend with the changes in this deck has been toward cheaper spells. This deck is at it’s best when it can reliably trigger Jori En, Ruin Diver, or when it can grind out a lot of value from its payoffs in a single turn. A Guttersnipe, Young Pyromancer, or any similar creature is pretty fragile in a game of Commander; permanents that pose a significant threat rarely stick around for more than a single turn cycle, so getting value while you can is important. The best way to address that in this deck has been to lower average cost of its spells as much as possible. Baral does the work of Jace’s Sanctum for half the mana, and can even poke in for some damage if he’s feeling frisky. Removed: Lunar Mystic Added: Preordain Most Commander decks will have a density of big, haymaker plays that push them way over the top, like a massive Sphinx’s Revelation or Massacre Wurm. While I do have a few big plays, like Cyclonic Rift or Volcanic Vision, but for the most part this deck goes in the opposite direction. Cheaper spells means I can cast more of them in one turn, and when you are drawing as many cards as this deck can, mana efficiency goes a long way. Realistically, if it costs four or more mana it needs to have a big impact on the game to be worth having in this deck. Lunar Mystic seems great, but its inability to trigger off of sorcery spells is a surprisingly frustrating limitation in this deck. Preordain helps dig for important cards, and is easily cast alongside a second spell for Jori En to trigger. Removed: Mizzium Meddler Added: Bloodwater Entity One thing I wanted to keep consistent when tweaking this deck was to make sure I had several ways to recycle its spells, like Archaeomancer, Mnemonic Wall, and now also Bloodwater Entity. These creatures return instant or sorcery cards from my graveyard, which lets me grind out extra value, but they also serve as combo pieces when used alongside spells like Aether Tradewinds, Mystic Confluence, and now Quasiduplicate. Long-time readers may remember my love of cards like Archaeomancer from one of my old articles, and this deck is a great place for these creatures. Mizzium Meddler can help protect these creatures, but replacing it with a redundant effect serves a similar purpose while also improving the deck’s consistency. Removed: Elusive Spellfist Added: Firebrand Archer Evasive threats are great, but direct damage is often more reliable. Firebrand Archer doesn’t synergize as well with the card Stolen Identity, but other than that it’s a better choice for the deck. What I especially like about the Archer is that it triggers off of the handful of artifacts and enchantments in the deck, and hits all opponents at the same time instead of just one. Like Thermo-Alchemist, Elusive Spellfist runs a higher risk of doing absolutely nothing after I cast it, and in practise it never seemed to do quite enough to be worth its inclusion; it was ok in the deck, but never great. If I cared more about dealing combat damage to a player then it would shine, but that’s not the case here. Removed: Pyre Hound Added: Murmuring Mystic Four-mana threats are just at the top end of what I want in this deck, and Pyre Hound is unfortunately a very low-impact card. It is nice to have a growing threat, but the flock of bird tokens from Murmuring Mystic are so much better in nearly every scenario. The only time it looks worse is when facing a threat like Elesh Norn or Massacre Wurm. Having another way to generate flying tokens like Talrand is great, and if I want I can even try cloning the Mystic with Quasiduplicate or Stolen Identity for some truly massive flocks of birds. Removed: Weaver of Lightning Added: Mystical Tutor What can I say about Mystical Tutor? It fits this deck so perfectly it almost boggles my mind. Not only is it a cheap instant that I can fire off alongside almost anything, but if I sequence my spells correctly with Jori En in play I’m able to draw whatever card it is that I just finished searching for right away. Weaver of Lightning always seemed like it would be a great inclusion, but unless I was staring down a field of 1/1 tokens it never did much for me. In a deck with a Basilisk Collar or some other way to give the Weaver deathtouch it would be terrifying. Unfortunately, this deck is not set up to accomodate that sort of combo; I may have to remember that one for a future project, though. I’m sure that over the next two years the deck list will noticeably change again, but I’m confident in saying that the core gameplay of my Jori En, Ruin Diver deck will remain the same. Throwing out a flurry of spells in one turn has always been fun, and this deck does it well. Maybe my hatred of Aetherflux Reservoir will subside, or maybe I will acquire a Niv-Mizzet, Parun to really push the deck over the top. Maybe we’ll see a whole new batch of spells-matter cards that will replace the ones I already have. Only time will tell. Regardless of what the future will bring, this much is certain: whether it’s Izzet Drakes in Standard, Arclight Phoenix in Modern, or Jori En in Commander, it’s a good time to be a spell-slinger. 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