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Commander, Uh, Finds a Way

Commander, Uh, Finds a Way

With Ixalan’s release we are on the verge of a veritable horde of dinosaur decks flooding Commander tables everywhere. Gishath, Sun’s Avatar has some of the most Commander hype for a Standard card ever, and with good reason. It isn’t often we get a brand new creature type, and with the amount of tribal support dinosaurs is receiving in the set, it’s no surprise everyone and their grandmother is getting their Gishath decks ready. Everything about this creature screams value. Between the three aggressive keywords, the ability to flood the board with even more bodies, and the convenient seven power to ensure lethal Commander damage in three swings, Gishath is a force to be reckoned with. However, it’s very easy to build it incorrectly. Going too deep on certain cards in the name of tribal synergy can spell disaster in an actual game, so it’s important to know how to put together a cohesive deck, rather than just slapping together a pile of dinosaur cards and calling it a day.

One of the most important things to consider when building Gishath is figuring out how many dinosaurs to include. Since dinosaurs are a fairly small and recent tribe, even with the errata to several older creatures, it’s difficult to resist going overboard on including sub-par dinosaurs in the deck. We want each dinosaur to actually do something, either by providing a sizable body to fend off our opponents, or to do something through their abilities. With this in mind, it’s much easier to list off which dinosaurs to cut rather than extol the virtues of the dinosaurs we’re including since the parameters for inclusion are so wide. Smaller dinosaurs like Raptor Companion, Shivan Raptor, Nest Robber, Sky Terror, and Huatli’s Snubhorn are such low-impact that I would much rather have these slots as ramp to consistently cast our actual threats. This is by no means an aggressive deck, so we’re looking to overwhelm the opponent with the size of our creatures. Pangosaur, despite being large enough to fit the bill for inclusion, has the drawback of returning to our hand when someone plays a land. While this does tricks with Pandemonium effects, it’s far too much of a drawback to include. As well, while certainly powerful in conjunction, Belligerent Brontodon and Looming Altosaur don’t do nearly enough on their own, with the Brontodon actually decreasing the number of cards we reveal with Gishath, which makes it even easier to cut. Overall, even with these cuts, we still have a whopping 42 slots for dinosaurs, which is more than enough to consistently hit with Gishath’s ability.

Speaking of Gishath’s ability, we need ways to abuse this to cheat as many dinosaurs from our deck into play. One of the most obvious ways to do this is by pumping up Gishath’s power since the more damage we deal the more cards we reveal. Xenagos, God of Revels is a Commander all-star, and the potential to attack for 14 Commander damage on turn 8 is too juicy to pass up. For something a bit cheaper, we can include the God auras from Shadowmoor/Eventide to give Gishath a bonus as well as tacking on even more abilities. We can also include Overrun effects to dramatically increase our damage output across the board. Titanic Ultimatum, Overwhelming Stampede, and the delightfully flavourful Dinosaur Stampede can turn our team of dinosaurs into a game-ending force of nature.

The next option for boosting Gishath is giving it double strike. Enchantments like Berserkers’ Onslaught, Blood Mist, and Samut, the Tested can send Gishath crashing in for obscene amounts of damage turn after turn, which in turn increases the size of our army dramatically. For more of a surprise factor, we can also include Boros Charm and Wrecking Ogre for instant-speed blowouts. Boros Charm also works as a counter to board wipes like Wrath of God, and Wrecking Ogre gives Gishath a +3/+3 boost as well as double strike which lets us reveal a potential 20 cards! Since we are in Naya colours we can also run Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion in our manabase as a way of repeatedly giving Gishath double strike at instant-speed without having to spend a spell slot in the deck.

Finally, it’s important to note that Gishath also benefits greatly from effects that give us additional combat steps, such as Relentless Assault. This way, with a global haste effect like Fervor, we can attack with the dinosaurs we flip off of Gishath’s first trigger. With enough of these effects we can keep battering our opponents with an ever growing army of monsters until we win. The best examples of this are Waves of Aggression and Aggravated Assault, as each one allows you to get multiple combat steps either by retracing Waves or paying mana into Aggravated Assault. To really amp up this element of the deck, we can run Bear Umbra, which untaps your lands when you attack. With this on Gishath we are able to continuously jam our mana into Aggravated Assault, attack, untap our lands, and do it all over again. With this combo we can have our entire deck’s worth of dinosaurs in play and attacking.

One of the most important elements of Gishath, Sun’s Avatar is flipping dinosaur cards off the top of our deck. While most tutor effects in Commander put the card you search for directly into your hand, we fortunately have access to several options that actually put the tutored creature on top of our deck, thus guaranteeing we hit the dinosaur we want. Worldly Tutor, Brutalizer Exarch, and Mwonvuli Beast Tracker each find a creature and put them on top of our deck, and Congregation at Dawn can even find three creatures to set up a massive addition to our board. Should any dinosaurs get stranded in our hand, we can also use Scroll Rack to put them back on top of our deck and draw a fresh hand.

Dinosaurs getting stuck in our hand is a problem that can also be remedied by using cards that can cheat them into play. Quicksilver Amulet and Belbe’s Portal are two of the most popular methods of cheating big creatures into play since they can both put fatties into play at instant-speed. Lurking Predators is a Commander staple that can both help flip creatures into play and filter our draws by putting undesirable cards on the bottom of our deck. This works particularly well with our tutor package since we can guarantee that we’re going to hit a dinosaur, and this can even be used as a “rattlesnake”, a term for a card or play that warns opponents not to do something, which in this case is play a single spell. Sunbird’s Invocation ramps this game plan up by turning all the spells you cast from your hand into cascade spells, which given the size of most of our threats means we can usually pick and choose what valuable spell we want to cast from our top cards. Finally, Commander 2017 gave tribal decks a massive spell for flooding the board in Kindred Summons, which can effectively double the number of creatures you have in play. While it’s tricky to get a ton of creatures since ours are so large, even turning an army of four dinosaurs into eight should be enough board presence to start stomping our opposition.

The last category of cards for a Gishath deck I want to discuss is removal and interaction. We want spells that utilize our own creatures’ bulk to push around smaller threats. As such, fight cards like Savage Stomp and Pounce are at the forefront of targeted removal in my mind. While not a dinosaur itself, Gruul Ragebeast does an excellent job of turning our dinosaurs into removal spells, and enchantments like Warstorm Surge can be used to remove creatures or even attack an opponent’s life total to get in those last points of damage. Warstorm Surge is especially strong here since it’ll trigger after Gishath dumps a bunch of dinosaurs into play. For clearing small threats we have Pyrohemia and Caltrops. These are a perfect foil to token swarm decks, and they also have the added benefit of damaging our own dinosaurs so we can repeatedly trigger enrage. When Ripjaw Raptor says “Pay R: draw a card”, you know you’re in for a good time. Finally, we have the incredibly flavourful Star of Extinction. This is the epitome of overkill, destroying a land and dealing 20 damage to each creature and planeswalker for just seven mana. While this does destroy our creatures, it’s a great way to clear the board before we summon Gishath. If we really want to go deep, we can include Vigor to give each of our dinosaurs 20 +1/+1 counters when the Star resolves.

Gishath, Sun’s Avatar is an incredibly powerful Commander right out of the gate, and only looks to get stronger the more dinosaurs get printed. There are plenty of ways to abuse this ability, and the fact that you get to play with dinosaurs just makes you feel like a kid again. WotC pushed dinosaurs to being playable because they knew people were going to play them, and when backed by a strong enough Commander we get an actually viable deck, rather than failed tribal experiments like giants or minotaurs. Gishath is a powerhouse when built properly, and I expect in the coming weeks we’ll be seeing plenty of thunder lizards at Commander tables everywhere.