Phelddagrif’s Squirrel Friends
Elder Dragon Highlander (or Commander) is one of Magic’s most popular formats. Whether you’re interested in jamming five hour games with your friends and a case of beer, or if you’re trying your best to race your opponents for that turn four combo win, Commander is a large and strange beast unlike most other Magic formats. When I first began playing Magic, I was told that EDH was the easiest format for new players to get into. I don’t remember who gave me this advice but I wish that they had added a few much needed footnotes to that statement. I made every mistake that a new EDH player could possibly make. My first EDH deck was an Orzhov Teysa, Orzhov Scion deck that played Darkest Hour, Blasting Station, all the relevant tutors, and ninety or so other cards. The ratio of threats to answers fluctuated dramatically from every build and the deck lacked any semblance of direction. When I sat down to play with my playgroup, I either went off early or spent turn after turn sacrificing Reassembling Skeleton and reanimating him. Needless to say, my homage to the Orzhov syndicate was put to bed with every intention of being reworked into something with more cohesion than the result of turning my trade binder upside down and shaking it violently and then picking out all the cards in the right colours.
As my career as an amateurish but enthusiastic EDH player progressed, I began to see the deck building restriction of one hundred card singleton as a joy. I got to play all the cards and I didn’t have to lose sleep over how many of each card I should run. However, after the initial honeymoon period of spreadsheets and sleepless nights spent on gatherer and EDH subreddits, I found myself in a bit of a rut concerning EDH. All my decks played the same and all my decks played the same role in my playgroup. I had a (theoretically) winning ratio of ramp spells to board wipes to answers to card draw to win conditions. These past two paragraphs have been a needlessly self indulgent and roundabout way of saying that it is time for me to break up and break down most of my EDH decks. Most EDH decks, not all. EDH is still the format of choice for my playgroup and I have gone through every single one of my decks and picked out a few decks to keep. My intent was to get rid of all my cute or gimmicky decks that would lose all vitality after one game. Surprisingly, this deck made the cut.
I wish I could quit you, Phelddagrif
Ah, Phelddagrif... everyone’s favourite happy, flying, purple, hippo (well, this cheerful little cherub has flying until end of turn for the low price of one white mana). My first Phelddagrif deck was what you’d expect from a Phelddagrif EDH deck. There was all the mana ramp that green could give and all the pillow fort enchantments that the shard of Bant had to offer. The plan was to ramp hard and stay alive and become kingmaker, not king. However, as Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick switched from Yorkist to Lancaster, I found myself tapping my lands for Brago, King Eternal, then Purphoros, God of the Forge. After a few games, I came to the realization that people enjoy getting hippo tokens, gaining life, and drawing cards. However, games also go on for all eternity when everyone is getting hippo tokens, gaining life, and drawing cards. Finally, no one enjoys games that go on for all eternity. A strange conundrum to be sure, but instead of sending my faithful winged companion off to pasture, I cut a few really bad counter spells in favour of a few win conditions. I had one really bad one and one really mediocre one. I added a Mind Over Matter to compliment my copy of Temple Bell and I threw in a Laboratory Maniac and a Kozilek, Butcher of Truth for good measure. That was the really mediocre win condition. My really bad one never came to fruition. Probably because my plan was to generate infinite mana with Pili-Pala and Grand Architect and then give my opponents infinite hippo tokens while I had a Suture Priest in play. Don’t judge me, I have already judged myself.
For a while, that was the end of the adventures of Phelddagrif and me. I tried to put it all behind me. I put away the glossy teal dice, I rolled up my Bant themed playmat, and I tried to see other commanders. I swung in with Alesha, Who Smiles at Death, I had fun and wacky shenanigans with Karador, Ghost Chieftain, and I had luxuriated with Marchesa, the Black Rose in piles of +1/+1 counters aplenty. However, as much as I just wanted my love of Phelddagrif to die, it just kept coming back.
I have never successfully gotten back together with an ex, and rarely have I ever wanted to. When I do, it’s usually in response to a really bad one night stand that leaves me confused and unsatisfied... but mostly very confused. Well, I want to get back together with Phelddagrif because every time I start building Zur the Enchanter, I keep on thinking of green enchantments. Now, old man Zur is without a doubt a far superior enchantment themed one-on-one commander, but as my playgroup meets in droves of more than two, Zur unfortunately will not do. Besides, all my favourite enchantments are green. Green enchantments like Earthcraft and Squirrel Nest. These two in play results in infinite tapped squirrels, a win condition that I think Phelddagrif would approve of. Now, how do you weaponize these infinite tapped squirrels? Altar of Dementia and Altar of the Brood mills out your opponents while Blasting Station deals infinite damage to your opponents.
My current Phelddagrif build is a three card combo that wins the game on the spot with each of these pieces being reasonably costed; however, Phelddagrif does not give us access to black mana, meaning that we’re going to have to do the best we can to tutor up these pieces in white, blue, and green. Fabricate, Enlightened Tutor, Idyllic Tutor, Trinket Mage, and Trophy Mage are the best that that Bant has to offer, and so far it’s been working pretty well. I’m curious about testing Whir of Invention, but this deck lacks the critical mass of artifacts to pay for “improvise”. This combo is really the only way that this deck can win, so if one of our combo pieces breaks, we’re going to need an Eternal Witness or a Replenish to save us. Since there’s no easy way to recur any of these pieces, I would recommend waiting until everyone else at the table is tapped out before playing out your combo. Playing out the pieces on curve one at a time is just too risky; however, just because you’ve waited until you’re ready to go all the way doesn’t mean that you can not use protection. Grand Abolisher, Greater Auramancy, Monastery Siege, and a suite of the best counter spells that you can afford will be your line of defense.
We're going to build a wall
Now that we’ve (somewhat) covered how this deck wins, let’s take a look at how this deck doesn’t lose. A holdover from this deck’s all-in pillow fort days will help us stay alive long enough to go in for the combo win and potentially keep up counter magic to protect it. A suite of pillow fort spells like Ghostly Prison, Propaganda, Worship, Aura of Silence, Mana Breach, and Humility are sure to slow our opponents down. Mana Breach pairs particularly well with Burgeoning and Exploration, allowing us to stay far enough ahead of our opponents. Humility is also a great way to deal with most strategies that rely on a deck’s commander while not interfering with our own win condition. We don’t care that our squirrels are vanilla 1/1’s, we just care that they enter play untapped. In fact, our squirrel army is already nothing more than a pile of vanilla 1/1’s. While there are definitely better hate bears in our colours that are actually bears, I wanted to fully go all in with enchantments (besides, I can only afford one of each good hate-bear and they’re all in a Canadian Highlander deck).
On the subject of enchantments, green gives us a lot of payoffs for playing lots of enchantments. Enchantress's Presence and Argothian Enchantress makes every enchantment we play a cantrip while Herald of the Pantheon makes all of our enchantments cheaper to cast. Sylvan Library and Mirri's Guile are enchantments that benefit from the aforementioned payoff cards while helping us dig for answers as well as for our combo pieces. While there are other enchantment payoff cards, (Mesa Enchantress and Verduran Enchantress come to mind), this list is so tight that it’s hard to justify running these higher costed effects over more removal.
White, Blue, and Green give us access to a fine removal package. Caustic Caterpillar, Reclamation Sage, and Qasali Pridemage are personal pet cards of mine. They are creature effects that can be cast through Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and they dodge noncreature counters like Negate and Spell Pierce. However, as we are all in on this combo win, I would recommend using counter spells and instant speed removal defensively. We have access to great spells like Path to Exile, Swords to Plowshares, and Beast Within, and these spells should only be used to prevent us from losing the game and/or to prevent one of our opponents from winning the game. We only have so many silver bullets, after all. Arachnogenesis is a hilarious include, especially if one of our opponents is fooling around with some Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker/Splinter Twin shenanigans.
“I make infinite Restoration Angels and they all have haste”
“How many are you making?”
“You can’t have infinite Restoration Angel tokens. Infinity is an undefined theoretical concept. You have to name a number”
“Alright then, a billion billion billion Restoration Angel tokens coming at all of you”
“Tap three for Arachnogenesis. I get a billion billion billion spider tokens with reach that don’t take damage from your angel tokens,”
Yes spider fog feels like a corner case card, but it can save your life from a Master of Cruelties or a giant meat army or a billion billion billion tokens. It’s not an auto include by any means and if something better comes along, this is the first card to get cut from the list; but right now it’s a fine pet card.
Because our deck is not reliant on our commander being in play, or any creatures being in play for that matter, we can wipe the board without consequence. Wrath of God, Day of Judgment, Supreme Verdict, and Cyclonic Rift are the best board wipes that our colours have to offer. The only creatures that we might weep over in the case of a board wipe are our mana dorks.
Ramp it up
I have always been torn between the three flavours of mana ramp. Mana dorks are the closest thing that we have to fast mana in EDH and they make reasonable late game blockers, but they get wiped out pretty easily. Mana dorks seem to work best in decks that can cheaply if not freely recur creatures like Meren of Clan Nel Toth decks as well as decks that need mana fast and that need mana now. Mana rocks chug along at a moderate place, with the best rocks Mana Crypt and Sol Ring and the moxes costing either one or none. The signet cycle and the diamond cycle either come into play tapped, or require additional mana to activate them. They’re nowhere near Sol Ring, but they seem to be the best we can get. These rocks self combust when met with an overloaded Vandalblast and we start sweating if we see an Aura Shards resolve. Still, they seem to be on average slower than mana dorks but more resilient. Mana rocks are also colourless and can be slotted into any deck. Finally, we have good, old-fashioned green ramp spells like [cardnotfound]Nature’s Lore, Farseek, Kodama's Reach, and Tempt with Discovery. These are relatively slow, but they get extra lands into play, and while land destruction is not uncommon, it’s definitely less common than creature or artifact removal. For the purposes of Phelddagrif Enchantress, I have settled on using mana dorks to accelerate my mana. They’re a quick way to accelerate our game and they help us race towards our combo win. Furthermore, our deck relies heavily on having access to green mana to play Earthcraft and Squirrel Nest, and most of our mana dorks only give us green mana. Avacyn's Pilgrim, Birds of Paradise, and Noble Hierarch, you are all very special snowflakes.
Our mana base is fairly uninspired. I run all the relevant fetches, all the relevant Ravnica shock lands, and all the relevant Lorwyn filter lands. The only lands of interest are Dryad Arbor paired with its best friend Green Sun's Zenith and Serra's Sanctum. While in no way as powerful or infamous as Gaea's Cradle or Tolarian Academy, Serra's Sanctum is a worthy celebration of playing enchantments.
Phelddagrif was one of the first commanders that I built and it’s the first reserved list card that I ever bought (I know, a flying purple hippo is no Gaea's Cradle or Underground Sea). It also does not add anything to the deck whatsoever. However, Phelddagrif put me in the colours that I needed to be in and I like him. If a new Bant commander comes along that interacts well with enchantments, I might be tempted to relocate Phelddagrif to my binder; but for now, he’ll happily romp on my playmat as my commander once again. I would highly recommend this deck to anyone who enjoys playing an interactive and control based game with an “I win!” button squirrelled away in the deck.