Conquest Focus: The Recent Bans and Revisiting Jorn, God of Stax

Credit: Wizards of the Coast, Magali Villaneuve

We’ve talked about the Conquest format and what’s cool about it pretty recently – check out our intro here. Well the format recently updated with a new set of bans:

Inalla, Archmage Ritualist is banned as commander.

Rograkh, Son of Rohgahh is banned as commander.

Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow is banned as commander.

The common threads here are that they’re three cheap command zone effects that are always available to a player. Inalla’s ability is one of the eminence abilities, and thus you don’t ever need to actually cast Inalla at all to make use of it. And while Rohgahh has to be cast he costs 0 and enables a number of mana ramp cards by just being there, such as Mox Amber, Culling the Weak, and Springleaf Drum, to name a few. Finally while Yuriko does cost 2, that 2 is consistent throughout the game. Meanwhile Yuriko also enables powerful card draw and can also hit all your enemies for 15+ damage off a single attack quite easily, especially since Yuriko decks frequently use deck manipulating cards like Sensei’s divining top and scroll rack to repeatedly put back expensive cards.

In addition Jeska, Thrice Reborn and the entire partner mechanic were announced to be on the official watchlist.

One card I expect is either being watched or is going to become problematic in the future is Derevi, Empyrial Tactician as commander. Derevi is a powerful stax enabler, and while his ability costs 4, it’s a constant 4, and Derevi decks can build around his untapping ability to make it so that rather than casting Derevi he can actually net you mana.  In combination with cards like Birthing Pod and Altar of Heros I think Derevi has the potential to be used as a card searching engine.  He’s also usefully a bird (who cares) but also a wizard, and there are a number of powerful wizard and wizard triggered effects such as Naban, Dean of Iteration. Suddenly Derevi is untapping 2 permanents when he hits the board. The biggest difference between Derevi and the already banned commanders is his cost and the necessity of some sort of board state to utilize his ability. Inalla’s combo requires solely Spellseeker, and Yuriko does require a creature, but it’s usually not difficult to find the odd ornithopter or changeling outcast to use as a ninjitsu enabler.

I’m glad to see the conquest format evolving, and I think the goal remains consistent – a format for cEDH style play that is more focused on gameplay skill and where players are allowed to make meaningful choices in the game that influence the outcome without some of the extremely problematic cards that rule cEDH games typically. In the future I’ll be making an effort to post Conquest versions of some of the Commander Focus decks we put out, and this week we’re looking at a trimmed-down Conquest variant of last week’s Stax Jorn Deck.

This deck functions around the same game plan: Rush out Jorn and use his untapping ability to gain board advantage. Lacking Tainted Pact and Demonic Consult as well as significant tutors means that this deck will need to grind much harder, working to maintain its soft lock while it draws through the deck. To enable that there’s less ramp and more draw, especially in the form of Toski, Bearer of Secrets, Coastal Piracy, and better Coastal Piracy – Reconnaissance Mission. These cards should enable a fair amount of card draw alongside the multiple untapping effects and blue creatures with pure card draw abilities, Spectral Sailor, Azure Mage, Ghostly Pilferer, Thrasios, Triton Hero and Urza, Lord High Artificer.

Given the balancing out of ramp in the format and the presence of significant instants in the deck you ought to be able to last long enough to lock down the board then start one or more of your card draw engines, however it may also be useful to allow one of the players to develop a significant enough threat to require countering before you try to lock things down. A lot of this sort of play is heavily meta- and playgroup-dependent; admittedly this deck, in this format, should lead to fairly long games with players taking their time doing threat tracking and carefully considering if and when to blow. The hope of course is that no player will want to use their resources to blow up stax pieces, in the fear that doing so will allow the next player to act and win the game, so this may be a deck that is better in high-skill play groups where that’s a consideration, and less so in groups where a player is liable to blow something up without thinking..

The decision to avoid artifacts like replicating ring and coldsteel heart is a difficult one, but the odds of getting off 8 turns is a difficult call, and coldsteel heart unfortunately enters the battlefield tapped, which may be a critical problem. It would be very nice to also be able to run null rod, and lacking white in the color identity means no Stony Silence, so it’s less likely to lock out an artifact deck, but there’s also less of the insane ramp artifacts present in conquest, so the necessity of absolutely getting out a stax piece to stop opponents’ ramp early is significantly less.

Ultimately I think the potential of this deck shows the potential of the format – since competitive play in Conquest won’t resolve something like 70% around a shell for casting Thassa’s Oracle + Demonic Consult or Tainted Pact, the format will be much healthier. Or so we can hope.