“Commander Society is posting a Spicy Marath, Will of the Wild deck!”

“Oh, so it’s just going to be another Naya Tokens deck that wins with Doubling Season?”

“Nah, man, it’s something different!  It doesn’t even run Doubling Season or Basilisk Collar!”

“No way!”

“Yeah, man, it’s great!  It even plays Form of the Dragon!”

“What?!  Now I have to check it out!”

It’s true!  This isn’t your typical Marath deck!  Instead of being filled with Naya “Good-stuff” and token strategies, this deck goes in a completely different direction.  Instead of beating people down with a bunch of tokens buffed by a Cathars’ Crusade we’re making Angels and drawing cards with our Enchantment spells.  Instead of pinging all of our opponent’s creatures to death with Marath’s ability and deathtouch, we’ll just make sure they can’t even kill us by turning into an undead dragon!  But before I go into the details of making this happen, take a look at this deck list:

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(Tap image to enlarge)

Reasons to play this deck:

  • You want to use a powerful shell to generate additional value from almost every spell you cast.
  • You want your commander to be relevant and powerful, but secondary to your primary game plan.
  • You want to use soft prison effects to delay your opponents’ plans outside of colors that typically use ‘hard lock’ strategies.
  • You want to surprise people by subverting their preconceived notions about your build based on your commander choice.

Reasons to NOT play this deck:

  • You enjoy interacting with your opponents at instant speed.
  • You dislike having permanents on the board.
  • You want to actively and quickly attack with large numbers of tokens.
  • You feel that Marath “needs” to run certain cards to make it good.
  • You want to play a more “Traditional” Marath build filled with combos and immense amount of tokens.

Now that that’s out of the way I’m going to talk about my history with the Enchantress Archetype.  Several years ago, between Return to Ravnica and Theros blocks, I threw together a deck with random enchantments I had sitting around.  The focus of the deck was to pillow fort myself using enchantments like Sphere of Safety and Ghostly Prison, and eventually win with Sigil of the Empty Throne.  I played Eight-and-a-Half-Tails as my commander, as he can very easily protect your permanents in a Mono-White build.  My other choice of commander, Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant, was included in the 99 as it had sentimental value to me and I didn’t primarily play with creatures.

Between then and Theros block I picked up the Planechase 2012 decks, which included the card Krond the Dawn-Clad, a massive GW Commander that wanted to focus on Auras instead of Pillow Fort.  When Theros came around and was Enchantment-Focused I decided to build Krond.  I filled out the GW “Enchantress Shell,” based on the Legacy deck of the same name, and put together a fairly powerful aura-based Voltron list, with Sigil of the Empty Throne as a back-up plan.  Krond at six mana was the most expensive card in the deck so the curve was kept low, allowing for powerful and explosive games.

During this time, I also built a strange Modern deck: Enduring Ideal.  The goal is, like the name suggests, to get to seven mana as fast as possible to cast Enduring Ideal, which was used to lock the opponent out of the game and kill them with Form of the Dragon.  The deck was fun to play even though it was fairly weak after the banning of Seething Song.

Finally in the past year I picked up a copy of Marath, Will of the Wild, and decided I wanted to put together an Enchantress build.  Not the usual Marath-Centric combos, or the Naya Tokens or the Naya Good-Stuff.  Enchantress.  I wanted to cast enchantments, draws cards from them, and reduce my opponents to 0 life with the lingering magic of concepts. Because that’s what Non-Aura enchantments are: Lingering Magic and Ideas that are strong enough to influence the battlefield.

Because that’s what Non-Aura enchantments are: Lingering Magic and Ideas that are strong enough to influence the battlefield.

While talking about this deck I will not be referencing Marath much.  Marath is more a utility than a central piece to the deck.  While “traditional” Marath decks play to Marath’s strengths to combo and win, we play it simply because none of the other Naya commanders can make our game plan better.  Instead, this deck plays more like a Value/Midrange deck with a few elements of Control and Ramp mixed in.  We don’t go on the Aura Voltron plan, and in fact only run two Auras in the deck because we’re not playing Uril, the Miststalker.  But we also don’t play hard Prison, since Naya lacks the access to the blue enchantments that can lock the opponents out of the game completely.  Instead, we have a deck that has a versatile but straight-forward game plan.

Let’s break the deck down by card function and see how everything fits together:

argothian-enchantressThe GW Enchantress “Shell”

The core of the “Enchantress” archetype are, well, the Enchantresses.  Named after Argothian Enchantress and Enchantress’s Presence, the “Enchantress Effects” are cards that draw you a card when you cast an enchantment spell.  These effects allow us to run out our enchantments without going down cards, and when we have multiples, draw us obscene amounts of cards in a single turn while we chain enchantments together.  These are the most powerful draw engine effects we have access to, and we definitely want all five of them in the deck.

Within this “Shell,” we also have cards that can protect our enchantments or deter our opponents from messing with them.  Sterling Grove and Greater Auramancy provide our enchantments with Shroud, making our opponents have to deal with them before touching our other ones, or making them use mass removal to get everything out of the way.  Femeref Enchantress and Karmic Justice are great deterrents, making our opponents think twice before removing our permanents.  Femeref will just draw us cards to replace the lost ones, while Karmic Justice can threaten to obliterate an opponent’s mana base after a Back to Nature or Austere Command resolves.  Lastly, Replenish is the catch-all Reanimate spell in the deck.  When we go to the late game, bringing back five-plus enchantments can create an instant board state and value with various Enters-the-Battlefield abilities.

The last part of our shell are the tutors and card filtering effects that allow us to find what we need, when we need it. Enlightened Tutor and Idyllic Tutor are the easiest way to find what we want, with another Enlightened Tutor effect being found on Sterling Grove.  Sylvan Library and Vessel of Nascency (honestly, my favorite card to have included in the deck) provide extra digging and filtering in addition to our Enchantress effects.  We also play Worldly Tutor, Chord of Calling and Green Sun’s Zenith to help us find our Enchantress effects or utility creatures we may need at various points in the game.

Filling out the deck: Other Enchantments and Spells

With the shell built, it’s time to fill out the rest of the cards in the deck.  Since we’re in green we have access to some enchantments that help us ramp into larger plays. Burgeoning and Exploration are powerful earlier on, but usually are dead draws later in the game.  Playing our Enchantress effects ensures that even if we draw these one-mana cards in the late game, we can replace them easily.  Rites of Flourishing provides us with a little extra card draw by itself and an extra land drop, and the effect is symmetrical which gives us a little political favor.  Each of these three also help our lands not be dead draws in the late game, as we can always play the lands for value and extra mana which is never bad with Marath. Cryptolith Rite and Earthcraft are immensely powerful cards that allow us to take full advantage of our 0-power Enchantresses and the tokens Marath can make, letting us power out higher-cost spells, or fueling our mana sinks.  Wierding Wood is an odd inclusion, but it does some important things. It ramps us up by one mana, fixes our colors and can replace itself without enchantress effects. Incidentally, it also completes the only infinite combo in the deck, which I’ll explain later. Oracle of Mul Daya, Birds of Paradise and Farseek are our non-enchantment options of ramping, and Weathered Wayfarer helps us find our uber-powerful lands and can catch us up when we’re behind.

Most of our removal options are, unsurprisingly, also enchantments. Song of the Dryads, Oblivion Ring and Grasp of Fate are good catch-all answers to problematic permanents, even if the removal ends up being temporary.  Being in GW gives us loads of answers to artifacts and enchantments, filling out our suite with Act of Authority, Aura of Silence, Aura Shards and Seal of Primordium, which is strictly better than Naturalize with all of the effects we have that benefit from enchantments.  Words of War allows us to turn our extra draws we don’t need into damage, and can protect us from punishing effects, like those found in the Nekusar decks.  Nevermore helps us proactively protect our permanents, while Council’s Judgment and Path to Exile are cheap, powerful removal options.  Honestly, if we had more cheap options like Chained to the Rocks, but at Instant speed, we’d probably play those instead.

White and green give us plenty of effects on enchantments that can be used to protect ourselves from being attacked or taking damage while we stay alive until we’re ready to win. Runed Halo, Leyline of Sanctity, Story Circle and Phyrexian Unlife all help prevent damage or at least dying to damage. Words of Worship, like Words of War, helps convert extra card draw into something more useful when we don’t need (or want) the cards in certain points of the game. Dueling Grounds and Ghostly Prison make it harder for our opponents to just straight-up kill us with aggro strategies.

Our last section of enchantments are the miscellaneous “Utility” enchantments: Ones that don’t quite fall into other categories, but most of them are pivotal to winning the game. Primatic Omen helps us fix our mana, makes Earthcraft much more powerful if we only have one basic, and draws us cards from Enchantresses late game. Goblin Bombardment and Glare of Subdual add extra layers of Utility to both Heliod and Marath’s abilities, functioning as both damage and aggro deterrent. Stony Silence destroys Artifact-based voltron, combo and ramp strategies, and is completely one-sided since we play no artifacts.  Rest in Peace hoses graveyard and death-based strategies, and feels amazing to bring back into play with Replenish. Heliod, God of the Sun makes our creatures better by giving them vigilance, and his ability to create a 2/1 Enchantment Creature Token is amazing with Glare and our Constellation triggers. Sigil of the Empty Throne creates a tangible threat every time we cast an enchantment, and Form of the Dragon functions as both a Moat and a Win Condition.  Skybind…  well, we’ll talk about Skybind in a little bit.

Last bits of Utility

Finally, we have our six utility creatures and six utility lands. Mother of Runes is a powerful card that protects Marath and our other good creatures. Scavenging Ooze hates on Graveyard strategies and gains valuable points of life when we don’t have access to Rest in Peace. Courser of Kruphix is both an enchantment and allows us to filter lands out of our draws and gain life off of them. Eternal Witness is a cheap way to buy back cards we want to reuse, and goes well with Skybind, as do Reclamation Sage and Acidic Slime.

Eiganjo, Okina and Shinka are pet cards that serve some use with their abilities.  Using them politically can be interesting, as other players attacking your opponents with their commanders can lead to interesting plays by saving them, pumping them or giving them first strike. Wasteland is of course a great way to take care of problematic lands.  Opal Palace fits right in with Marath, giving you extra counters for essentially one extra mana.  Lastly, Kessig Wolf Run gives you an extra way to randomly kill people (or help other people take out your opponents), being a fantastic outlet for the massive amounts of mana you can generate with Cradle, Sanctum, Rite and Earthcraft.

The rest of our mana base is straight-forward.  The colors are spread fairly evenly, with a bit more focus on Green.  Gaea’s Cradle and Serra’s Sanctum are absolutely busted cards that are right at home in a deck like this that plays lots of enchantments and can ramp up cradle with Marath’s token creation.

cryptolith-riteSo, what’s the Game Plan?

Early-game focus should be on drawing cards, committing permanents to the board and building up value through our enchantment abilities.  This may involve using Marath to get value from playing cards like Cryptolith Rite or Earthcraft.  It may involve ignoring Marath entirely while we play a few Enchantress effects to keep our hand full.  In this stage in the game, cards like Green Sun’s Zenith and Chord of Calling will almost always find Eidolon of Blossoms or Argothian Enchantress.  This stage of the game should be focused on assessing the opposing game plans and figuring out the best route to victory for the rest of the game.

As we progress into the mid-game, we need to build up our own protections, be it through prison or pillow fort enchantments or a wall of creatures created by Heliod or Marath.  This stage is also when we start to develop the plan that we determine in the early game.  Which enchantments do we need to find to shut down other strategies?  Which ones do we need to find to eventually win the game ourselves?  We need to use our resources to disrupt our opponents while keeping ours as safe as possible while we build towards our win.

The late game is when the enchantments take over.  With an abundance of creatures and mana, we can shut our opponents out with Glare of Subdual and Skybind while we generate so much advantage that they can’t overcome it.  Eventually, we’ll amass so many 2/1 Clerics or 4/4 Angels that we can finish off our opponents, or use the Lava Axe provided by Form of the Dragon to grind down the opposition.

What are our paths to victory?

This deck has a whopping five main paths to victory:

Creating 2/1 Clerics, 1/1 Elementals and 4/4 Angels, or Words of War

Given enough time, Heliod, Marath and Sigil of the Empty Throne can create a large number of bodies that can quickly dispatch an opponent.  Alternately, with as many extra cards as we draw, we can use Words of War to grind down our opponents life totals.  With a Serra’s Sanctum on the board, a Replenish for Words, Eidolon of Blossoms and any number of enchantments can easily deal a ton of damage to someone.

Skybind Value

Alright, here’s where we can talk about Skybind.  I originally didn’t play this card in my Marath list, and I definitely didn’t play it in my Krond list.  But I put it in the deck on a whim, and I believe it’s the most powerful card in the deck in the late game.  Every time an enchantment enters the battlefield under our control, we can blink out a Non-enchantment permanent until end of turn.  Let that sink in for a moment.  It’s late game, we have an Argothian Enchantress and a large number of Angels held back by only a Blazing Archon.  We cast an Exploration that we top-decked.  We draw another card off of the Enchantress, then Exploration enters. Skybind triggers and exiles the Blazing Archon until the next end step, opening the way for our Angels to swoop in and take someone down.  But blinking out blockers isn’t all we can do.  We can recycle the Enters the Battlefield triggers of cards like Eternal Witness or Acidic Slime.  We can recycle our Scry Lands.  We can blink our opponent’s Dimir Aqueduct to make them boomerang a land.  The possibilities here are incredible.  Where Skybind really gets insane, though, is when you combine it with Heliod, God of the Sun.  Most people just see Heliod’s ability as a way to make a 2/1 creature.  We don’t care about that part.  We care that they’re Enchantment creatures.  They trigger Skybind at Instant speed and build enchantment count for Serra’s Sanctum.  With enough enchantments, we can tap our Sanctum for eight mana, create two Enchantment Creature tokens, and with Skybind recycle a value ETB effect and reset our Serra’s Sanctum to do it on the next player’s turn.  Once this goes on long enough, we can point those Skybind triggers onto our opponent’s things for value or protection.  An opponent’s attempts to Monsterous a Kalemne’s Captain to exile all of our stuff?  Exile it until the next end step.  A player casts a Turnabout after casting High Tide?  Make four tokens and blink out half their lands until the next end step.  Skybind is probably the MVP of the deck with the correct setup, and I’m glad I gave it a fair shot.

Earthcraft Combo

The only Marath-centric combo in the deck involves Earthcraft and Weirding Wood.  The combo is a little complicated, but here we go:

Marath in play with 3 counters (only cast it once), Earthcraft, and a Forest enchanted with Weirding Wood.

Tap the Forest for GG

Spend G to make a 1/1, floating G

Tap the new Token to untap the Forest, then tap the Forest for RR

Make another token, floating RG

Tap Marath to untap the Forest, tap it for WW

Spend a W to make a third 1/1, killing Marath and floating RGW

Tap one of the two untapped tokens to untap the forest, then tap the forest for mana and use the floating mana to recast Marath with 5 counters.

Tap Marath to untap the Forest, Tap forest for GG

Spend G to make a 1/1, tap new 1/1 to untap the Forest and tap it for RR

Spend R to make a 1/1, Floating RG, tap new 1/1 to untap Forest, Tap forest for WW

Spend W to make a 1/1, Floating RGW, tap new 1/1 to untap Forest, Tap forest for GG

Spend G to make a 1/1, Floating RGGW, tap new 1/1 to untap Forest, Tap forest for RR

Spend R to make a 1/1, killing Marath, Floating RRGGW, tap new 1/1 to untap Forest

Tap Forest and use Floating Mana to re-cast Marath for 7 mana.

Repeat this until you end up having enough mana from untapping your land and enough counters on Marath to kill the table, probably somewhere around the “Marath for 300+” range.

form-of-the-dragon-2Dragon Prison

This “Combo” was brought in from my days playing Enduring Ideal in Modern, and the primary reason for my playing GWr Enchantress.  The core of the combo is two cards: Form of the Dragon and Phyrexian Unlife.  Form of the Dragon sets your life total to five on each end step, and Phyrexian Unlife prevents you from dying at zero or less life.  Say you’re at five life and you get attacked for 40, none of it having first strike or double strike.  All of the damage is dealt at the same time, so you go to -35 life.  End step rolls around and Form of the Dragon pulls you back up to 5 life.  When your upkeep comes around, you get to Lava Axe something.  The problem with this combo in Commander comes from a prevalence of First or Double Strike and the existence of Commander Damage.  If you’re attempting to win with this combo you’ll need to use other pillow fort or prison elements to make sure no one kills you.  Cards like Runed Halo naming a commander, or Glare of Subdual to tap down fliers go a long way to helping this win condition close out a game.

So…  Why Marath, again?

I can hear it in your mind now:  So why are we playing Marath?  You don’t have any of the enchantments that break the card in half!  No Doubling Season!  No Parallel Lives!  No Hardened Scales!  No Basilisk Collar!  I know!  And that’s the point of me building this deck!  You don’t need to play specific cards for a commander to work well with a deck.  As far as Enchantress goes, Marath is hands-down the best commander to compliment Cyptolith Rite, Gaea’s Cradle and Aura Shards, and probably the best Earthcraft commander next to Animar.  The versatility of his abilities and almost uncaring nature to being recast makes it a perfect fit for a deck that ends up generating a lot of mana, and even got it banned as a commander in Duel Commander. Umezawa’s Jitte as a commander is just not reasonable, people, and that’s why we play Marath.  When we come down to it, my choice of color hinges almost solely on wanting to play Form of the Dragon.  The Red in the deck could be swapped out for Blue or Black very easily, enabling different combos.  Jenara, Asura of War is well positioned to take advantage of the mana from Serra’s Sanctum.  Karador, Ghost Chieftain can utilize the recent shift to Enchantments being in WB, and other constellation triggers like Doomwake Giant.  Marath was just the best choice for the colors I wanted to play, so I play Marath.

Honorable Mentions:

Cards that could (or really, should) be in the deck, but are not in this list include:

These cards fundamentally break Marath in half and can ramp up the combo potential of the deck very easily.

These two go very well with Marath’s tendencies to create a lot of tokens very quickly, and Purphoros’ team pump can end games very quickly.

Marath with Deathtouch is insanely strong, rivalled only by Goblin Sharpshooter with Deathtouch, though in some ways better due to the lack of needing to tap.  I didn’t want the deck to be quite as Marath-centric, so I didn’t include them, but they give Marath a lot more versatility and power.

When you reveal Marath as your commander, you may get comments about people knowing exactly what’s in your deck.  Bring a list like this, though, and you can show them just how wrong their assumptions can be.  Build up your board, put together your win, and tear down your opponents with the power of raw ideas!