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Commander Spotlight: Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca

With Rivals of Ixalan released, now is the time that we can finally play with a full pool of goodies that this block brought, specifically the Tribal cards: Dinosaurs, Merfolks, Vampires, and Pirates! I've done an article on Dinosaur Tribal already so now it's time to talk about our fishy friends, the Merfolk!

Unlike Dinosaurs, Merfolk has been around since the beginning of Magic's history, with Merfolk of the Pearl Trident and Lord of Atlantis appearing all the way back in the original Alpha set. We've since seen a smattering of Merfolk across the sets, with Lorwyn block officially supporting the tribe in Blue/White/Black colors. Despite this long history, Merfolk haven't seen much popularity in Commander because the tribe has usually been geared towards aggressive 1v1 strategies that don't transition well into multiplayer formats. Legacy Merfolk staples like Silvergill Adept just don't have the same impact in Commander. Then Ixalan arrived with another round of Merfolk Tribal support; do these new additions finally push? Let's find out by building around our new Merfolk Tribal commander, Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca!

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Kumena lets you tap Merfolk to do a bunch of things, so let's quickly break down each ability and touch on the most obvious applications of each:

  • Kumena can't be blocked this turn. Kumena isn't going to be strongest creature on the battlefield as a mere 2/4, but being unblockable means he doesn't need to be. This is great if you have cards that trigger off combat damage to players, such as Coastal Piracy and Sword of Fire and Ice. Or if you're feeling particularly ambitious then you can try a Voltron strategy, though I wouldn't recommend it.
  • Draw a card. Drawing cards is the best thing ever, so you don't exactly need to build around this, but you could turn drawing cards into a win con with stuff like Psychosis Crawler and Chasm Skulker
  • Put +1/+1 counters on each Merfolk. Once you've amassed a critical amount of Merfolk, Kumena lets you grow your army so you can start swinging for lethal. Growing them with +1/+1 counters opens us up to tons of different support cards as well, like Inspiring Call and Unity of Purpose.

Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca looks like a weird hodgpodge of abilities, but in reality he's doing a good job of trying to support all the archetypes Merfolk have filled in Magic's history, from its beginning as Go Wide Aggro led by Merfolk Lords like Lord of Atlantis, to the Tap/Untap Shenanigans in Lorwyn like Fallowsage, and finally the +1/+1 Counter theme from Ixalan like Herald of Secret Streams -- it's all here!

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To abuse these sweet activated abilities, however, we'll need lots of Merfolk to tap! Because of this, Kumena,Tyrant of Orazca definitely wants you to build a Go Wide aka Tokens strategy. Therein lies the issue with Merfolk Tribal in Commander, however: we just don't have good Merfolk token generators available. The only good ones that I can think of are Deeproot Waters and Stonybrook Schoolmaster, and the latter isn't available to Kumena decks. That means we'll need to be a bit more creative on how to brew this deck!

Alright, let's see what we've got to work with! I've looked through all the cards in Magic that have Merfolk mentioned on them and selected my personal favorites for a Kumena deck. Here's what I've got, starting with the prize-winning fish:

All these cards support one or more aspects that Kumena, Tryant of Orazca promotes: Go Wide (Master of the Pearl Trident), +1/+1 Counters (Herald of Secret Streams), and Tapping (Surgespanner). Assuming I'm trying to support all these themes, these would be the Merfolk cards that I would slot in first.

Next up are a bunch of Merfolk cards that are candidates for the deck, but may or may not make it depending on how the deck is shaping up:

Again, some of these might show up in a possible Kumena deck, but I put them here because either they don't exactly fit with what Kumena promotes, or they require specific support that I'm not sure will be found in the deck, or we simply have better options. Feel free to correct me in the comments section or let me know about a Merfolk card I forgot to include! Overall, I think we have the start to a great Go Wide deck with a subtheme of +1/+1 Counters and Tapping, but the lack of Merfolk token generators hurts.

With our Merfolk cards chosen, it's time to look at the three themes separately and see what non-Merfolk support cards we've got to work with.


Tap / Untap Shenanigans

I'm no stranger to the power of Tap / Untap Shenanigans: long ago I wrote a Budget Commander article on Selvala, Explorer Returned that turned out to be one of the most powerful budget decks I've ever built, so I'm already on the lookout for Combo potential. It's worth pointing out, however, that Selvala, Explorer Returned effortlessly draws cards and generates tons of mana needed to cast them, whereas Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca's abilities are harder to activate and don't generate mana, making him the weaker choice for Combos at least in a vacuum (also Elves combo easier than Merfolk). This can change once we see our supporting card options in the 99.

I searched for cards that mention tapping/untapping and picked some of the ones I felt were the most relevant to a Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca deck:

Jackpot! There's a ton of amazing cards here to untap our creatures so we can maximize the abilities of Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca to its fullest. And since we're doing that, we might as well trade in our usual sources of ramp like Rampant Growth for mana dorks like Birds of Paradise so they can benefit from all the untapping as well! With these cards, our Merfolk deck is going to have crazy explosive turns!

While most untap cards are restricted to once per turn, there's a few powerhouse options that can trigger infinitely: Paradox Engine, Intruder Alarm, Faces of the Past. These are the cards with the most combo potential, but unfortunately I don't know how to combine these with Kumena to really combo off. For now I'll just settle for "synergizes insanely well together." Please let me know if you figured out any sweet combos with these, or there are any sweet untap/tap cards that I missed!

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+1/+1 Counters

There's a great deal of +1/+1 Counter support in Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca's colors, most notably coming from the Simic guild in both Ravnica: City of Guilds and Return to Ravnica blocks (Zameck Guildmage), but also a smattering from Khans of Tarkir block (Hardened Scales) and other blocks as well. +1/+1 Counters is a very popular mechanic and you can count on more and more support for the archetype to show up in pretty much every upcoming block.

I searched for cards that mention +1/+1 counters and picked out my favorite candidates for a Kumena deck. I'm looking for cards that either efficiently give us counters on all our creatures since we intend on Going Wide, or grant us benefits for having +1/+1 counters. There was a ton to go through and I likely missed some good ones, so let me know if I did:

Unsurprisingly, there's a ton of cards to work with! Cards like Metallic Mimic, Zameck Guildmage, Unity of Purpose, and Rishkar, Peema Renegade are no-brainer inclusions for our deck. Then there's a lot more cards that could be really sweet but I don't know how well they'd pan out: Renegade Krasis, Bloodspore Thrinax, and Sage of Hours being some of those.

Overall, I don't think this pool of +1/+1 Counters is as powerful as the Untap/Tap Shenanigans theme, but it's still a sweet archetype to play with so why not run it if there's room, right?

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Mana Dork Merfolk!

If we are committing to a Tap/Untap theme, then it makes sense to run mana dorks like Birds of Paradise over safer staples like Rampant Growth because we'll be generating extra mana off the dorks each time we untap our creatures. This can lead to explosive turns where we can use Kumena's ability to draw cards, tap our mana dorks to cast spells, and untap everything to repeat the cycle.

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If our ramp is going to be mana dorks and we'll have 10+ of them, then we've now got a sizeable portion of non-Merfolk creatures in our that are cheap to cast and therefore easy to flood the board with. Since we've got all these extra creatures on the board, why not turn them into Merfolk to get the most out of Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca and all those Lord of Atlantis copies? With Arcane Adaptation and Xenograft we can do just that! Of the two, Adapatation is a far superior card, since not only is it cheaper but it also works with cast triggers like Merrow Reejerey and Deeproot Waters. However, with so few good methods of tutoring up enchantments in Simic colors, it's probably best to run Xenograft just to make the deck more consistent.

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One last goodie to add! Since we're committing to the Untap/Tap theme, and our ramp is in the form of mana dorks to abuse untap engines like Seedborn Muse, we have one more roadblock: most of our spells can only be cast at sorcery-speed, so our mana dorks won't be able to cast every turn they're untapped by the likes of Muse and Murkfiend Liege. To get around this let's add some ways to give our spells flash: Leyline of Anticipation, Vedalken Orrery, and Alchemist's Refuge are the best.

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So now we've got a Merfolk package focusing primarily on Untap/Tap themes, and we've built on that theme with mana dorks that we can turn into Merfolk, and we can cast our stuff at instant speed to make the most of our untap engines! This is looking sweet! Here's a list of cards that fit this strategy:


Everything Else

Now that we covered all the Merfolk Tribal cards and cards that support Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca's Untap/Tap and +1/+1 Counter themes, it's time to talk about the rest of the deck, the generic goodstuff Simic 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.

Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca and his supporting Merfolk offer a clear path to victory: Go Wide with Merfolk, pump them up with Kumena and the many versions of Lord of Atlantis, and swing for lethal. We've also got ramp covered with the mana dorks discussed earlier, along with Merfolk-related card draw. The biggest thing we're missing is interaction, plus a couple other slots for recursion, graveyard hate, etc. Here are some ideas:

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Sample Decklist (Fishbowl)

Alright, we've talked about all the different pieces, now it's time to see a whole decklist! Since we're too close to Rivals of Ixalan's release and prices are still in flux, I'm not doing a true $50ish budget deck. Instead my only budget constraint will be no card over $30, so no Bloom Tender, no Earthcraft, and certainly no Gaea's Cradle! Let's dive in:

Initially I wanted to support both a Tap/Untap theme and +1/+1 Counter theme in the same deck, but it turns out there's just not enough room for both while also rounding out the deck with other basic necessities like removal. Therefore I ended up cutting the +1/+1 Counter theme almost entirely; perhaps in the future I'll make a Kumena deck around counters, but for now it's all about Tap/Untap stuff!

This deck is all about building up a board of mana dorks and Merfolk, then untapping them a billion times to draw our deck and vomit it on to the battlefield. With dozens of Merfolk on the battlefield and tons of lords like Master of the Pearl Trident pumping them, you just crash through the opposition. It really feels like an Elfball deck, except with Merfolk, so ... Fishball? Fishbowl?! Yeah, let's go with that!

Keep in mind this is still a rough draft list: the deck can be fast and explosive, but it's not up to the speed of other Tap/Untap decks like Yisan, Wanderer Bard or Selvala, Explorer Returned. I expect the deck will shine most playing a slightly longer game, waiting for the right moment to go off, which means it probably needs a bit more removal/countermagic to keep afloat until then. Testing will uncover what cuts will be needed to make room for more of those, if any are needed.

That's All, Folks!

Now that we've covered the sweet Dinosaurs and Merfolk cards from Rivals of Ixalan, it's time for our friendly bloodsuckers, Vampire Tribal led by Edgar Markov, to get an update with some of the new cards! Since I've talked about Edgar Markov recently in my Vampiric Bloodlust article which included all the cards up to Ixalan, I won't go as in-depth as I did here since we're just adding RIX cards. Just a short and sweet article, but worry not, for I already have another article lined up after that!

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