My new Firja, Judge of Valor Commander deck feels like a culmination of several years’ worth of deck building choices. It combines synergies, mechanics and constraints from several other Commander lists I’ve made, and I can’t help but get be excited by how they’ve all come together.

Valor of Peasants


Deck by Ben Iverach-Brereton

Seeking New Ground

I’ve wanted to make a white/black Commander deck for ages, but I could never find the right card to build around. Most legendary creatures in these colours focus on sacrificing creatures, gaining life, or creating tokens (or some combination thereof), and while those are fun, powerful archetypes, even if only using uncommons, they’ve consistently failed to inspire me. This is especially disheartening, considering how much I love Orzhov decks in other formats.

The major issue I kept running into was how “on rails” life gain and sacrifice strategies feel. I’m hard-pressed to find anything new and different to do with them, and if I can’t put my own unique spin on a deck, it’s unlikely to hold my interest long enough for me to spend the time to build it. Life gain and sacrifice decks got a lot more tools at their disposal in the last few years, but ironically, it feels like there’s less variety in how those decks are built as a result.

If I put my mind to it, it probably wouldn’t take me very long at all to build a decent white/black life gain deck, but what I would come up with would look the same as every other list: Angel of Vitality, Cleric of Life’s Bond, Ajani’s Pridemate, and so on. The archetype is a lot more powerful than it used to be, and more consistent, which is great. My only problem is that it practically builds itself.

Firja is different; there’s no clear-cut way to build around her. All she cares about is casting two spells a turn; this could mean anything. Her ability suggests sticking to a lower mana, but even that’s very vague. Do you make a spellslinger list? Enchantress? Maybe you’d rather put together white/black affinity? How about a low-to-the-ground aggro build, or cleric tribal? Firja’s ability is a good source of card advantage, but doesn’t shoehorn you into any particular archetype. Plus she’s an uncommon commander, which I always like to build around.

She was exactly what I was looking for.

Self-Imposed Restrictions

In keeping with my recent trend of low-rarity decks, this is another Peasant Commander list, containing only common and uncommon cards. Peasant (or Artisan, as you might know it from Arena) has easily become one of my favourite deck building restrictions, especially for Commander. By not including rares or mythics, you can’t rely on the raw power level of your cards nearly as much. This necessarily shifts your focus to your deck’s synergies, and how you can combine your cards to become more than the sum of their parts. This approach is right up my alley.

Don’t get me wrong, rares and mythics can be fun, and just because they’re in a deck doesn’t mean the list can’t be full of sweet synergies. Far from it. That said, a lot of mythics from the past few years feel like “I win” buttons that just take over games by themselves. I think they’ve really soured my overall perception of higher rarities as a result.

These game-warping cards remind why I stopped playing Primal Surge in my Shattergang Brothers deck several years ago. Every other card in the deck was a permanent, so I wound up spending all game waiting to draw my Surge with enough mana to cast it. If I could resolve that spell I would win on the spot, so nothing else I did with the deck mattered. It made games with the deck incredibly uninteresting. The hollow victory I felt by putting my library into play taught me that it was more fun to gradually build up a board presence than to instantly floop into one because I got lucky.

Besides, there’s something uniquely satisfying about winning a game with the Magic equivalent of one hand tied behind my back. If I can go toe-to-toe with a “normal” deck when I’m only using common and uncommon cards, I can feel especially proud of my accomplishment.

What’s In A Rare?

With that in mind, I’m always torn when it comes to including downshifted cards in my Peasant decks. If a card used to be a rare but was later printed as a common or uncommon, is it ok to use it, or would its inclusion mean my deck is no longer “Peasant”? And what if a card later becomes a rare, like Wonder in Modern Horizons 2? Do I have to remove it from my list because it suddenly got upshifted?

Looking at Pauper, the format of all-commons is a permissive system: as long as a card was printed as a common at least once, it’s fair game. This is the simplest approach, and means you don’t need to keep track of the latest printing of a card to make sure it’s still legal. It does mean that you can build a Pauper deck out of nothing but uncommon cards, which feels a bit weird, but it means the powerful cornerstones of the format won’t suddenly disappear because they’re too powerful for a future Limited environment.

I’ve decided to adopt a similar system to Pauper with regard to my Peasant decks, though with the added caveat I’ll only include a card if I have the common or uncommon printing of it. For instance, Force of Will was printed as an uncommon in Alliances, but my only copy is a mythic from Eternal Masters. While I could still technically include it in my Rona, Disciple of Gix Peasant deck, using a mythic version would go against the spirit of my rarity restriction. Granted, this is a completely arbitrary line in the sand, and if another player included the “wrong” printing of a card and wanted to call their list a Peasant deck, I’d support them. This is just how I like to build my decks.

My point is, I have an Ultimate Masters printing of Angel of Despair, and decided to include it in my Firja deck. Ultimate Masters is the only time the Angel has been uncommon, but that’s good enough for me. Besides, I’ve had this card in my collection ever since a Draft on release day, and I’ve been trying to find a home for it ever since. If it was any other printing, I would have swapped it out for something else, but I’ll be honest, I’m glad that wasn’t the case. Angel of Despair is a great fit, and has some sweet synergies with cards like Skull Collector and Ephemerate.

Take Two

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Firja reminds me a lot of Jori En, Ruin Diver, one of my all-time favourite commanders. Both creatures reward you for casting two spells a turn, and when I put together my Izzet deck when Oath of the Gatewatch came out, I was just as excited by the variety of options at my disposal.

That list ended up being Izzet spellslingers (which, funnily enough, I might find as blasé as Orzhov life gain if I was building it today), but because of Jori En‘s flexibility, I was never forced into that archetype. I felt free to include atypical cards if I wanted, like Chasm Skulker and Pyromancer’s Assault, which I might not have considered if I was using a more dedicated spellslinger commander, like Mizzix.


The good thing was, I could do anything with Firja. The trouble was, I could do anything! This made it difficult to pin down what I actually wanted to focus on. I started by looking for other cards that trigger by casting spells, but as it turns out, white and black aren’t exactly known for their plethora of Guttersnipes.

I went through several options, including the “Spirit or Arcane” cards from the Kamigawa block, and the Historic payoffs from Dominaria, but neither of these plans panned out. I liked the idea of using Universal Automaton and Bloodline Pretender to trigger both kinds of cards, but while I might be able to pull it off in a casual Modern deck, there weren’t enough cards to do it in Commander. I put these cards aside and kept looking through my collection. It didn’t take me long to find a new plan.

I started playing Magic shortly before Return to Ravnica, which means I own several cards with “extort,” the old Orzhov mechanic that lets you drain your opponents whenever you cast a spell. This ability is just the sort of thing I was looking for: extort cards don’t care what kind of spell you cast, which allows it pair nicely with any card type. Plus, just like Firja, it encourages you to play cheap spells. With the right enablers, this could be a solid win condition for my deck.

Do It Again… Again

Looking back at my Jori En deck, it wins by repeatedly casting a cheap, spell like Flame Jab or Mystic Speculation to fuel things like Guttersnipe and Gelectrode. If I was going to win using extort in my Firja deck, it made sense to put together the same kind of engine. The only question was what spell to use to trigger my permanents?

This is where I started to pull ideas from my Thalia, Heretic Cathar deck. The mono-white deck uses a lot of enters-the-battlefield creatures with ways to blink and bounce them. It’s a lot of fun, and a strategy I could copy with Firja. Kor Skyfisher and Whitemane Lion do very good impressions of buyback spells for my extort creatures, and pairing them with a Bontu’s Monument or Corpse Knight would give me even more Guttersnipe-like triggers to win the game.

I was concerned that taking my Firja list in this direction would end up making it a clone of my Thalia deck, but the additional colour would end up having a considerable impact. Black mana gave me access to better removal and card draw, as well as a small bit of hand attack, all of which would help push the deck in a different direction.

Additionally, this new deck plays around with different deck building constraints; my Thalia deck doesn’t shy away from rares and mythics, but it is only made up of permanents. Firja, meanwhile, could lean into its instants and sorceries a bit more. While these lists did end up with several cards in common, the end result is actually two decks with surprisingly distinct game plans.

Unexpected Reanimation

A notable difference was that Firja ended up with a reanimator sub-theme, almost by accident. I was initially looking for cards that were effectively two spells in one for Firja’s ability; if I was empty handed and drew something like an adventure, I could use it to get an extra card with my commander.

This line of thinking eventually led me to spells with flashback, which were actually a perfect fit for Firja. She could either trigger off of the card getting cast twice, or could put them into the graveyard to be used later. Of the flashback spells in white/black, Unburial Rites and Dread Return stood out as powerful options, and suddenly my brain was on reanimator plans. This idea was further solidified when I added Vile Entomber and Young Necromancer from my Modern Horizons 2 sealed kit, and all of a sudden I had several ways to enable graveyard shenanigans.

The biggest thing I can do with this deck is to bring back my Angel of Despair or Sandstone Oracle, but those are still pretty good options. Grinding out extra value by reanimating a smaller creature is also pretty sweet. Plus, as I said before, I wouldn’t want to win on the spot with this kind of quick play anyway.

Up Next: The Plan

Please join me next time as I delve further into this deck’s game plan. I’ll go into the list’s multi-part infinite combo and the way it plans to stay alive long enough to put it all together.

Can you figure out the combo before then?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.