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Budget Commander: $20 "Open Hostility" Upgrade


We're back with the final review of the new Commander 2016 preconstructed decks, where we help you guys choose the right deck for you, including an analysis of the unaltered deck, along with suggestions on how to upgrade them on a budget. Be sure to check out the previous articles if you haven't already: Stalwart UnityBreed LethalityEntropic Uprisingand Invent Superiority.

This time we'll be inspecting the Open Hostility deck, which is an aggressive deck that is all about smashing your opponent's faces with creatures.

You might like the deck if ...

  • You love aggressive creature decks
  • You want to play a deck that is exceptional at dealing with Pillow Fort decks (e.g. Ghostly Prison)
  • You like Token strategies
  • You like catching opponents off-guard by suddenly turning your harmless looking weenie army into game-ending threats

You might NOT like the deck if ...

  • You don't like being aggressive or focusing on creature combat
  • You want to durdle and focus on Combo wins
  • You want to play a deck with Blue

If this deck sounds cool to you, then great! Let's take a closer look, starting with the full preconstructed list:

Aggressive Weenies

Open Hostility is built around two main themes: Weenies and Tokens. 

 Putting these two themes together and Open Hostility ends up being a deck that deploys many low-powered, innocent-looking creatures on the battlefield, and then ends up stealing the game by pumping them up into a lethal army with cards like Mirror Entity and Wild Beastmaster. The key to victory is to downplay your growing board state of 1/1's and 2/2's until the time is right to pump them all up and take out your opponents.

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Saskia: Good or Bad?

The face of Open Hostility is Saskia the Unyielding. This Norse-themed legendary soldier doubles the damage output of your creatures by having them deal damage to a chosen player each time your creatures deal combat damage. Saskia doesn't have strong synergies with Weenies or Tokens specifically, but she does play nice with any creature-heavy deck, which this deck certainly is.

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I find Saskia to be both a fascinating and frustrating commander to build around. Her greatest strength is her ability to bypass the defenses of players by still doing damage to them. If you want to kill an opponent but he/she is sitting behind an impenetrable fortress of Ghostly Prisons or just a lot of blockers, you can choose that player with Saskia the Unyielding's ability and then deal damage to them by attacking a more vulnerable player. Many people who played the preconstructed decks against each other noted that Saskia's ability was vital to keep the Stalwart Unity deck led by Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis in check, as K&T have a habit of making it near-impossible to attack them directly.

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Saskia doesn't care about your pillow fort

Saskia the Unyielding's ability can also be used politically to great effect, something I've personally witnessed a few times already in Commander Clash. Nobody wants to be named the target of Saskia's wrath, so you can use that as leverage to make beneficial deals. "If I target X player and not you, then I want you to do Y for me." You'll be surprised how effective this tactic can be!

That's the good stuff about Saskia. Now on to the bad: Saskia's ability is very conservatively written, so there's not much room to abuse her. Let's break her ability down:

  • "As Saskia, the Unyielding enters the battlefield, choose a player." As, not When. This means it's a state-based ability, not a triggered ability, so you cannot do fun things like duplicate the trigger with Panharmonicon or Strionic Resonator to choose multiple players.
  • "Whenever a creature you control deals combat damage to a player, it deals that much damage to the chosen player." The damage that Saskia's ability causes a creature to deal isn't combat damage.This means you don't get an extra trigger from creatures like Balefire Dragon or equipment like Sword of Light and Shadow.

Because of how she's written, there just aren't a lot of cards/strategies that synergize especially well with Saskia the Unyielding. She doubles the damage of your creatures in a unique way, but she really doesn't care what creatures you're using or what strategies you're employing as long as you're swinging. In other words, she is not a "build around me" commander. Rather, she's very limited in how you build around her. 

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None of these cards synergize with Saskia's abilities

I think that's why she's the least popular commander out of Commander 2016. A lot of deck builders enjoy "build around me" commanders, especially ones with a vast card pool to build around with. I think the best example of this is Atraxa, Praetors' Voice. She wants you to build around her with cards that use counters, and Magic has a huge variety of cards that produce all kinds of counters—energy counters, +1/+1 counters, loyalty counters, etc.—so you have many different paths to build around Atraxa even though all of them deal with counters.

Meanwhile, Saskia the Unyielding wants you to swing in with creatures, but seems indifferent about what creatures you should be using. That's not enough to excite deck builders looking for more obvious synergies to build around. Of course, there's nothing wrong about playing a commander that doesn't specifically want to be built around! If you want to play an aggressive creature deck that has access to the 4 non-Blue colors, then Saskia the Unyielding performs the job very well, and her ability is still a powerful asset. However, I'm the type of person who likes building decks around the commander, so it took me a long time trying to think of a way to build around Saskia. My research led me down a dark path until I found...

 

Saskia, the Best Infect Leader

As I've mentioned, when it comes to dealing damage, most abilities specifically care about combat damage. There is, however, one notably powerful mechanic that doesn't care about the type of damage you deal: Infect!

Infect is a controversial mechanic in general. Similar to Mill, poison counters make life totals irrelevant by making your opponents lose the game without dropping their life totals to zero. Some people just have a gut negative reaction to that. However, Infect is more controversial in the Commander format because, although life totals have been increased from 20 to 40, the amount of poison counters required to lose the game stays the same. In theory, that gives Infect an edge over traditional damage dealers, but in reality Infect is balanced simply by having a shallow pool of cards (it was only featured in one Magic block so far, Scars of Mirrodin) so there's not enough good Infect cards to make a consistently powerful Infect Commander deck. So Infect is balanced in Commander for now, but that might change if the mechanic is ever revisited in a future block.

For a while now, the only Infect decks I would encounter would be the odd Marchesa, the Black Rose Infect deck, which used its commander to give the infect creatures some resiliency. Recently there's been a small surge of interest again with Atraxa, Praetors' Voice, as she can proliferate poison counters once each turn for free, and she gives access to Infect cards across four colors, which makes her an obvious choice for an Infect leader. I believe that Saskia the Unyielding is actually far better than Atraxa as the leader of an Infect deck, and possibly the best Infect leader of them all.

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Why Saskia over Atraxa? Two big reasons:

  • More Poison. Atraxa can only add one poison counter on each opponent per turn. In a typical 4-player game, that means the most Atraxa can add are 3 poison counters per turn divided amongst your opponents. Meanwhile, Saskia doubles the amount of poison counters your opponents are receiving each turn. If you are dealing 4 poison counters to an opponent, Saskia is adding another 4 poison counters to your chosen foe. If you dish out 10 poison counters to a different opponent, Saskia adds 10 to your chosen foe and they both lose. Saskia has a much, much higher ceiling when it comes to adding poison counters.
  • Fits the Playstyle. The moment you put a poison counter on someone in Commander, you've made an enemy for the rest of the game. People react negatively to Infect, whether justified or not. You put a poison counter on each of your foes and expect them to twiddle their thumbs while Atraxa slowly ticks up the poison each turn? Not gonna happen. They will be gunning for you and do everything in their power to stop you from adding more poison counters to them. Meanwhile, Saskia is the master of the 1-hit KO. All she needs is your chosen foe to take five poison counters, and she'll provide the other five. No chance for retaliation. Or you can easily deal 10 poison to one foe and take out your chosen foe too. Boom, double kill, flawless victory! Red offers more for Infect in general than Blue anyway: you get the best Haste enablers (e.g. Anger) and ways to double your damage (Boros Charm, Dictate of the Twin Gods). 

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Choosing the Right Infect Cards

The infect mechanic has only appeared in one block: Scars of Mirrodin block. There's not a lot of cards that add poison counters to fill your Commander deck with, and even fewer that are actually good cards in this format. Blight Mamba might elicit groans from the table, but it will need serious support before it can kill anyone, and it's ultimately not worth the effort.

When I first started tinkering with the deck concept, I was running most of the infect creatures available, but as I continued testing I whittled the infect cards down to only those that can deal 5+ damage per swing—enough damage to be lethal with any damage doubler such as Saskia the Unyielding or Furnace of Rath. There aren't a whole lot of infect creatures that meet this criteria, but there are a bunch of cards that grant infect to a creature, like Grafted Exoskeleton, which works just as well (and usually better!). 

The goal here isn't to tickle my opponents with poison counters; it's to kill them. That's how Saskia is most effective and that's how I play here. Play the best infect cards, then focus your efforts to double their damage and give them forms of evasion so they're instantly lethal.

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Removing the Pacifists

Open Hostility is a deck mostly about Tokens and Weenies, neither synergizing particularly well with our goal of an Infect deck. There's also a bunch of cards that plain ol' suck. I'll be taking out the worst of these cards to make room for upgrades.

 

Increasing Hostility (<$5 Upgrades)

Here's a quick list of some great cards for Saskia the Unyielding that you can pick up for under 5 bucks. I've made some special categories for Infect since that's the direction I'm interested in taking her, but the other categories are good for any Saskia deck no matter which direction you take her.

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Here's a sample list that you can add for $20 at the time of writing this article:

Here is Open Hostility with the sample swaps:

 

Total War (>$5 Upgrades)

If you're looking for some pricier upgrades, then check these cards out. Again, some of these are specifically for an Infect deck, while others fit any Saskia deck.

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Here's a sample Saskia Infect list with no budget restrictions. As usual, most of the money is spent on the lands. I'm often asked if I can provide a cheaper version of the budget-less lists, at price points that range from $50 to $300. I could, but making numerous versions of the same deck is tedious and I'm lazy. Just mix and match from my budget and non-budget card suggestions until you hit a price point that you're comfortable with.

 

That's all of them!

That wraps up Open Hostility, the last of the Commander 2016 preconstructed decks. Hope you enjoyed this mini-series! The next articles will focus on whatever deck I currently fancy. As always, your feedback is always appreciated. You can reach me by leaving a comment below or tweeting me @BudgetCommander. Thanks for reading!


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