Commander Focus: Xander Cruise

New Capenna is upon us, almost any day now, but technically this deck isn’t legal yet, and may even get tweaked a bit as the cards are released but for now, given all the back and forth about Lord Xander, the Collector, I thought I’d collect my thoughts and put together a deck that plays to his strengths – since he has several threatening triggered abilities.

Before diving into the details though, I want to establish some boundaries.

This deck is not super strong, but enormously threatening, and people have poor threat detection. White and green are in some ways the best colors for protecting your own spells and creatures, and Xander is solidly Grixis. One way to is lean into countermagic, and defend your spells on the stack, but with a 7 mana value commander that’s a lot of mana to get through.

The strength of Xander is also weakness:

When he enters play someone is going to lose half the cards in their hand. Nobody wants to be forced to discard.

If he’s allowed to attack someone, they will mill half their library. Generally, you can tell what decks can profit off their graveyard, though Underworld Breach and Timetwister mean that virtually any deck of any color can get back cards from its yard. Even so you’ll generally know who to force to mill, and the deck runs card to punish people for being milled (Bloodchief Ascension and Xander’s attack trigger will almost certainly kill someone if the Ascension is charged).

If Xander does hit the board and then gets killed, someone will be forced to sacrifice half their nonland permanents. Nobody wants that to be them.

You opponents will be thinking about countering:




If you think through how Xander practically works, he only hits 1 opponent each time. The problem is, that each of those opponents will think that Xander will be hitting them. Between the games theory aspect of it (assume the worst, essentially) and people’s poor threat detection, Xander is a spell that’s liable to be hit with a counter. You have to watch out for that, and look for ways to protect him. If your pod does a lot of counterspelling creatures then you might want to grab and add cards like Conqueror’s Flail and Defense Grid.

The basic game plan for the deck is to really, really lean into Xander’s abilities. If one Xander is scary and threatening, multiple Xanders is terrifying. If three or more hit the board then you can potentially strip everyone’s nonland permanents at once. So there’s quite a few ways to copy Xander.

You’ve got your bog-standard copy cards that ignore legendary:

There’s also a group of cards that will die as soon as they copy Xander, but that’s okay. You’ll still get an ETB and you’ll get his death trigger:

There’s also a couple of equipment that will make copies of Xander:

  • Blade of Selves will cause 3 Xanders to come into play and they will die to the state-based legend rule, but you’ll get 3 ETBs and 3 death triggers.
  • Helm of the Host will cause everything you want, an ETB, an attack trigger, and then you’ll have a token sitting around, so when it dies it causes another sacrifice.

Finally, there are cards that cause damage or let you steal when players mill or sacrifice.



Finally, the deck has a couple of similar type effect creators, namely Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger and Archon of Cruelty. Both these cause discard, damage, or life loss and sacrifices.

As a kind of leveraging source there are reanimation effects:

The deck also packs a couple of ways to get Xander into your hand, because if you can get him into your hand and into your graveyard early, then you can just reanimate him.

Netherborn Altar and Command Beacon are both potential ways to cheat out Xander early or else to reduce commander tax if he’s blown up en route to the field. It’s worth noting that Netherborn Altar doesn’t increase commander tax, so even if you cheat him into your hand and reanimate, before you hard cast, if you let Xander go to the commander zone the next time you cast him will still be the first time, and thus he’ll only cost 7.

Just for fun the deck is also running Blood Moon and Magus of the Moon, because with the artifact suite and the number of basics, you should be able to get past your mana requirements with lots of mountains, few of the spells cost multiple colored mana, of those that do almost all are black spells. You’ll want to tutor early for more straight swamps, and mostly avoid non-basic lands. If you have a spread of 3 land colors and can get 2 swamps, then don’t tutor for your shock lands, but rather the basics. You could also run Back to Basics in this deck, swap around the lands for more basics, but it struggles at times.

Okay, so what’s the first step in the game plan?

You’ve got to get to 7 mana ASAP. There’s a number of rituals in the deck, but you’re really looking to get a rock out hopefully on turns 2 and 3. Don’t use rituals to ramp faster, the deck doesn’t have the recovery for that. Instead rock rock, ritual Xander is what you really want.

However, you have to really play the political game. If you just rush out Xander, then your opponents will probably (but not necessarily) kill him. They don’t want to be milled most likely so you may well want to wait a bit and set up if you can. An early tutor for Archon of Cruelty or Kroxa can be a great way to threaten and draw fire, but also to test your opponents resolve and sap their resources.

Xander can’t really win you the game on his own, so you need one of his enablers, one of the triggers off his abilities is basically necessary to kill your opponents other than through brute force commander damage, which, at 6 power, will take you quite a while (4 attacks to hit 21 commander damage times 3 people means 12 attacks). That’s not really tenable.

Your copy abilities can be used early on enablers or rampers like Dockside or Archon of Cruelty to get you the resources you need. Mayhem Devil or Havoc Jester with a bunch of Treasure is also a really powerful control effect.

Here’s Xander Cruise aka Grixis Grief:

I hope you’re as looking forward to New Cappenna as I am I really like the idea of new shard and wedge commanders and a focus on tri-color, the new charms are neat and flexible and I expect some fun cards to come out of this set. Next two weeks we’ll be covering decks and hopefully releasing some more articles in the Best in Show series and I’m also working on a way to handling commander cube play.