Carnage Cliffhaven: Saskia's Biggest Fans
Don’t think of this as being a year behind, but rather as having a year of experience. Commander 17 is still fresh on the shelves, but today I’m talking about Commander 16. Commander 16 has shaped many metagames, with Atraxa Superfriends, Breya artifact combo, and Yidris Cascade Storm becoming dominant decks in the format. But what if you like the idea of the deck, and want to bring it with you on your journey through pauper commander (PDH)? Today, that’s what I’m going to discuss. I’ve had a year to come up with ten alternatives to the four color mythics, and am hoping one of these catches your attention and gets you brewing with commons. This article discusses one EDH commander, Saskia, and her two PDH commander alternatives: Carnage Gladiator and Cliffhaven Vampire.
Non-Blue means a lot of combat. And with Saskia’s chosen opponent, double the damage means double the fun. But how do we double up on damage in PDH? With lots of ‘ping’ effects. While not quite double the damage, these many pings can really add up quickly, making you a primary threat. The Saskia alternatives I’m bringing you today are both Black, but subtly go different directions. Let’s start with my personal preference, Carnage Gladiator.
This undead arena champ has a lot of power, and is hard to kill to boot. That first ability makes every opponent think twice about chump blocking, even when it isn’t you attacking. That regenerate isn’t anything to scoff at, as with his power, Carnage is going to kill most blockers, and still get in for a damage. So, we want our opponents to make the tough choice to block or not. How can we make this harder? With a few cards like these:
These three enchantments give our gladiator some more power, and must be double blocked! This means that if they want to stop his vicious commander damage, they’ll have to take more blocking damage. Speaking of menace, we have a whole crew of dudes that have this keyword to choose from.
Since we’re playing so much in the combat zone, we should really make the most of it with creature abilities that trigger on attack. We don’t really need creatures that get power or toughness buffs, so we’ll look for abilities more akin to these:
To round this deck out, I would think of filling the rest of the list with combat abilities. If we go this route, we can grab cards with Goad, First and Double Strike, and Dethrone. Sadly, there is only one card with Goad at common in our colors, but we have a home for him here. First and Double Strike allow our small creatures that we’re flooding the board with to trade up really well, should they be blocked. Dethrone lets our guys grow, especially with a life gaining opponent.
My second choice for making a Saskia styled PDH deck is Cliffhaven Vampire. Here we swap the red out for white, granting us access to a variety of control options. The vision for this deck is to use a suite of lifelink creatures and removal spells, all the while gaining life to stay above the board. Let’s start with a few life gain creatures, some of which even see play in Modern!
The Soul’s Attendant and Warden are cards commonly referred to as ‘sisters.’ With our commander out, each sister has the added text of “Whenever a creature comes into play, target opponent loses 1 life.” So, to best utilize their unique abilities, we are going to make tokens, a theme inherited from Saskia.
In addition to gaining life off all these tokens coming into play, we’ll be running several auras that grant lifelink. Lifelink in this deck nearly doubles our damage output, widening the life total gap. To use these auras, we’ll run Auramancer and Heliod’s Pilgrim to find the aura we need to pull ahead, or get us out of a sticky situation.
Since we have access to white, we can play many cards to remove artifacts and enchantments, something we have a hard time doing with red. White and black are the best colors for removing every permanent type, all the while gaining life.
As long as we have white, we can also make ourselves immune to taking combat damage. Fog effects are usually native to green, but white has more than its fair share, and even black has one. These spells will save us from early aggro, or even huge commander swings.
Now, since both of these two Saskia descendants run black, I’ll talk about some of the black staples here. In pauper, black does three things very well: Remove, Reanimate, and Draw. For both decks, we want a healthy dose of kill spells, at as low a cost as possible, and instant speed.
Of course we’re not going to be the only one running removal spells, so we need some way to bring our guys back into play, or at least hand. For both decks, we want as many reanimate effects stapled to bodies as possible. This lets us either have attackers, blockers, or sister triggers.
In a game of Magic, it can be said that whoever plays the most cards wins the most games. While I can’t put up the numbers to back that claim up, it sounds reasonable enough. As such, we’re gonna need cards to draw more cards. Thankfully, black is second best at this, though some would say it is the best. In order to draw cards in black though, we’re gonna have to give a little life, as that’s the black way.
Well, I believe I have exhausted the discussion of these two decks, but I am sure that you may have seen some other facet to latch onto and build around. With the rest of this series, I will be going through the other precon decks from Commander 16 and giving my opinion on PDH alternatives. While Saskia may be bigger and meaner, doesn’t mean that Carnage Gladiator and Cliffhaven Vampire can’t emulate the power and aggressiveness she embodies. I’ll see you all next time as we talk about Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis, and how you can bring the politics they represent into your PDH playgroup.