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Commander Spotlight: Gishath, Sun's Avatar

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The Wait Is Over!

Rivals of Ixalan has been fully spoiled which means I can finally talk about my favorite tribe from the block, Dinosaurs! While I could've knocked out an okay Dinosaur Tribal article back when we just had Ixalan, the dinosaur tribe has such a small card pool to work with that it didn't make sense to do so until the entire block was made available to us. That time has come, so let's begin!

If you want to make a Dinosaur Tribal deck, Gishath, Sun's Avatar is unquestionably the best option, something that can be confirmed with only minimal playtesting. There's so many times where you'll be severely behind in a game only to cast Gishath, smack someone for a good chunk of damage, and drop a bunch of big dinosaurs directly into play to immediately swing the game in your favor. Gishath is by far the biggest payoff card for playing Dinosaur Tribal and can single-handedly swing games. With our commander locked in, let's talk about the meat of the deck: The Dinosaurs!


Poop, Okay, and Great Dinosaurs

Gishath, Sun's Avatar is indeed a fantastic card and deserving of building a deck around, but don't get too carried away! While yes, it's true that the more dinosaur creatures you have in your deck, the more likely a card you reveal with Gishath's ability will be a dinosaur creature, but that doesn't mean you should be playing bad cards on the hopes that Gishath might put it into play for free. Unfortunately, I see a lot of Gishath decks falling into this trap: they'll jam their deck with every single dinosaur creature available just to maximize Gishath's trigger potential and end up running terrible cards like Nest Robber and Ancient Brontodon that you'd never want to cast in a game of Commander. Gishath's powerful trigger does not justify running bad cards; its trigger should be used to make good cards even better!

My rule of thumb for selecting good Dinosaur cards, and this applies to every card in any Magic deck, is simple. Am I happy seeing this card in my opening hand, or topdecking it? If the answer is "no," don't run it!

For this Dinosaur Tribal deck primer, I looked at every single card that mentions Dinosaur and categorized them as either Poop, Good, or Great. These are loose categories but help visualize what type of cards I consider worthy of inclusion and why.

Let's start with the poop:

Most of the bad cards available to us are creatures that can only attack or block and offer nothing else; these cards do not meaningfully interact with the board outside of basic combat, they don't stop our opponents from winning, and they don't help us when we're behind. You should avoid playing these cards if possible.

If you're on a tight budget or just looking for temporary filler while you pick up some missing cards, there's a couple cards here that are better than the rest: Charging Monstrosaur and Crested Herdcaller are at least better than trash like Tyrranax, but ultimately these cards should be replaced from your deck.

Now for the good cards:

These are cards I'd consider running in Dinosaur Tribal, but most wouldn't make the final cut of my Dinosaur Tribal list. These cards can do great things but are too situational (Rampaging Ferocidon), or require a ton of support (Charging Tuskodon), or cost too much mana (Priest of the Wakening Sun) to be considered great cards. I threw in some big dumb beaters, Carnage Tyrant and Siegehorn Ceratops, because if you need to run big dumb beaters you should only run the very best.

Special note on the mana dorks, Kinjalli's Caller, Otepec Huntmaster, and Knight of the Stampede: generally speaking I don't like these type of cards as they usually end up being worse Llanowar Elves. They aren't Dinosaurs themselves so they don't benefit from Dinosaur support cards, and Green simply has better ramp options available to us. I'd much rather run Explosive Vegetation over Knight of the Stampede. However, if you've already filled your deck with Rampant Growths and need more ramp, these options are okay; Otepec Huntmaster is the best of the bunch due to granting haste.

Of all these cards, Cacophodon is probably the best, especially if you build around its untap potential; there are some sweet infinite combos involving this innocent-looking dino! Bellowing Aegisaur, Goring Ceratops, Thundering Spineback, and Verdant Sun's Avatar are all excellent top-ends and I'd consider them Great for the deck if the tribe didn't have serious competition for the top-end slots.

Now for the good stuff:

This is the stuff that gets me excited to play Dinosaur Tribal! These are cards that meaningfully interact with the board (Needletooth Raptor), accelerate our game plan (Ranging Raptors), or take us from a bad board position suddenly into a great one (Etali, Primal Storm). There are some big dumb beaters in this list, but they are the cream of the crop (Zetalpa, Primal Dawn). We have a ton of powerful enrage triggers (Ripjaw Raptor) and ways to trigger them (Forerunner of the Empire).

Sun-Blessed Mount looks like an odd choice, but I've been quite impressed with Huatli, Dinosaur Knight and having a way to tutor her up from the library/graveyard while also putting a 4/4 dinosaur on the battlefield is solid.

Alright, I went over the Dinosaur cards; time to talk about how the rest of the deck will look like.


Angry Dinos!

The keyword of Dinosaurs is enrage: this is a trigger that happens whenever the Dinosaur with this keyword takes damage. With Rivals of Ixalan we finally have enough Dinosaurs with powerful enrage triggers to start running support cards specifically to get the most out of enrage.

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Getting the most out of our sweet enrage triggers requires reliable methods to deal nonlethal damage to our own creatures. Wizards printed obvious enrage triggers in Ixalan block for this purpose, including Savage Stomp / Forerunner of the Empire / Raging Regisaur but there's a lot more out there to work with. Most of them fall into these categories:

  • Red Board Wipe. Red's style of creature board wipes involve mass damage. Every Gishath discussion thread will always mention the best one of all, Pyrohemia, but there's also more lethal versions like Earthquake.
  • Fight. Take out your opponent's smaller creatures by forcing them to fight with cards like Ulvenwald Tracker.
  • Lure. Force your opponent's creatures to block with cards like Irresistible Prey.

Here are some of my favorite options to trigger enrage:

Generally speaking, my favorite enrage triggers are ones that interact with the board and are on the lower end of the mana curve because our top end is going to be filled with Dinosaurs. Special shout-out goes to Aether Flash for enabling seriously explosive plays with, say, Polyraptor.

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Dishing damage and triggering enrage is nice, but we gotta make sure that we aren't killing off our own dinos in the process. We can add a couple ways to protect our enrage creatures from taking lethal damage. The best two that I can think of are pumping their toughness so they can take more nonlethal damage, and giving them indestructibility so they can take all the damage we want. Here are some ideas on how to accomplish that:

Of these, Boros Charm and Heroic Intervention are my favorites, because they're cheap ways of protecting your entire board and are flexible answers to even your opponent's removal, like an opposing Wrath of God. I don't often recommend them, but I think some of the planeswalkers can do serious work in this deck, like Arlinn Kord and Huatli, Dinosaur Knight as repeated sources of pump while providing other useful modes and finishers as well.

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Optimizing Gishath

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Gishath, Sun's Avatar is the biggest payoff for running Dinosaur Tribal, being able to single-handedly swing games in your favor the turn you cast it. With so much potential here, it makes sense to add some cards that help maximize Gishath's effectiveness, which is all about dropping Dinosaurs from our library directly on to the battlefield . . . and killing our opponents, of course. To hit as many Dinosaurs as possible with Gishath we're going to focus on a few type of support cards:

  • More Gishath Damage. The more combat damage Gishath deals, the more Dinosaurs we're putting into play. We can accomplish this a few different ways, from pumping Gishath's power (e.g. Become Immense), doubling his damage dealt (e.g. Furnace of Rath), or taking extra combat steps (e.g. Seize the Day).
  • Topdeck Manipulation. We can arrange the top of our library so that Gishath is putting into play cards we really want.

Here are some cards that either manipulate the top of our library or maximize Gishath's trigger:

Extra combat steps are absurd when paired with Gishath, Sun's Avatar and anything that grants haste for your board like Fervor: imagine attacking with your commander, casting Savage Beating with entwine to deal massive damage while putting some huge Dinosaurs into play, and then taking another combat step and swinging with the entire team! Or if you have Gishath and another creature enchanted with Breath of Fury, you can deal damage and put 1+ Dinosaurs into play, take an extra combat step and enchant another creature with Breath, rinse repeat until your opponents are all dead.

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Everything Else

Now that we covered all the Dinosaur Tribal cards and cards that support that specific archetype, it's time to talk about the rest of the deck, the generic goodstuff Naya cards that will fill out the deck and make it run smoothly.

As I often explain in my Budget Commander articles, every time I build a rough draft of a deck, I make sure I have certain ratios of mana, interaction, card advantage, etc. This gives me a reference point to compare to the deck and see which areas may need improvement. My general ratio is:

  • 50 mana: lands and ramp, usually a 38–12 split
  • 10 sources of "card advantage;" I use this term loosely but am mostly looking for card draw or any spell that nets me 2+ non-land cards in hand / directly into play
  • 6 single target removal, split between creature / artifact / enchantment removal
  • 3 board wipes
  • 2 recursion
  • 2 flexible tutors
  • 1 graveyard hate
  • 1 surprise "I Win" card

That's always my starting point, which is then tweaked to suit the individual deck's strategy and further tweaked with playtesting. I always find it immensely useful to figure out some quick ways to improve the deck in question.

Gishath, Sun's Avatar and the Dinosaur Tribal cards cover the "how to win" portion of the deck admirably, along with creature removal, but we'll still need a ton of ramp, noncreature removal, card draw, etc. So here are some options for that:


Sample Decklist (Spared No Expense)

Alright, decklist time! Usually my decks stay around $50 and $100, but since Rivals of Ixalan hasn't been released yet and prices haven't had a chance to settle yet, I'm just going to make a sample deck without much budget concern. I'll stay away from the silly expensive cards (e.g. Taiga) though:

We've got tons of angry Dinosaurs and ways to ping them for fun times. There's loads of creature removal here, less other sorts of removal, but enough tutoring / library manipulation to hopefully find our silver bullets. Speaking of, the deck has this cool baked in synergy of topdeck manipulation with Noxious Revival, Worldly Tutor, Congregation at Dawn, Scroll Rack, Cream of the Crop, Forerunner of the Empire, Oracle of Mul Daya (clears the top of our library of lands while also being an excellent card in general) and Sylvan Library. This helps Gishath, Sun's Avatar be more consistent, but it also works equally well with Domri Rade, Herald's Horn, Lurking Predators, and Guild Feud though I cut that card in the end for fear of it being a bit too cute.

This is the most expensive deck I built for an article in recent memory, clocking in at $328 at the time of writing this, but I believe that price will go down once Rivals of Ixalan prices settle down. It's also a rough draft since I didn't have the chance to playtest it yet, so I expect it will need some tuning. Let me know if you want me to revisit this deck later on for a true budget list!


That's All, Folks!

Writing this article was a joy: I friggin' love Gishath, Sun's Avatar! I can't wait to get my hands on all the new cards and test them out. 

Next up is another Rivals of Ixalan commander: Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca, the UG Merfolk Tribal commander that promotes Tokens/Go Wide and +1/+1 Counters in the same deck! Madness! Let's see how that combination pans out, shall we? That article will be coming soon, but for now, thank you for reading!

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