Unstable Mutation: Call for Backup

In Unstable Mutation we take a preconstructed Commander deck and offer insights into how to play the deck out of the box, what works well and what doesn’t for that theme, and then how to rebuild the deck to be more effective. In general we won’t ditch the main idea of a deck and will stick to using Commanders available in the deck.

This weeks Unstable Mutation is Call for Backup, a Naya (Red/Green/White) +1/+1 counter focused deck, that also focuses on using the new Backup mechanic from March of the Machine.

Naya is sort of in a strange place, it has go wide, ETB, go tall, midrange, big fatties (like Dinosaurs or other kaiju type creatures) small creatures (like Elves) into big pumping finishers like Craterhoof Behemoth, and quite a lot of “other” strategies.

Call for Backup contains 10 new cards, not available elsewhere

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Bright-Palm, Soul Awakener

BPhillipYork: This is a pretty decent hitter Commander, especially because if it rolls out with haste, you can use the Backup ability on Bright-Palm, giving it 2 stacks of “when this creature attacks”, so it will go right away to a +4/+4. If you had a token doubler like Doubling Season or Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines then you’d get even more stacks. It wouldn’t be that hard to get Bright Palm up to 21 power in a turn and take someone out.

FromTheShire: I don’t think you get 2 stacks since Backup says it only gains the ability if it’s another creature, but you can definitely put one counter and then double it when you attack, and you’ll have had plenty of times to get a Hardened Scales out beforehand to still get that extra counter. Doubling things is always a Commander favorite, and turning off chump blocking is pretty useful for whatever big threat you’re pumping.


Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Shalai and Hallar

BPhillipYork: As is often the case, I feel like this is probably overall the stronger Commander for the deck. This also goes infinite with The Red Terror instantly, though you need to deal 1 damage from a red source first. This goes really well with a lot of +1/+1 themes, and it’s nicely a 3/3 flyer with vigilance, and on top of that it’s an Angel Elf, both powerful tribes.

FromTheShire: Agreed that this is the stronger of the two. Turning all of your many, many counters into direct damage is excellent, and flying and vigilance are super useful on a Commander, especially one you are likely to be pumping up and swinging with.


Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Death-Greeter’s Champion

BPhillipYork: Really tempting to dig in and be dashing this out every turn, though that’s going to cost you 4 mana every turn. If you’re running Impact Tremors and Witty Roastmaster and using this to get triggers there it’s possibly not so bad. But a lot of the other backup ability also trigger on combat damage, so potentially this could be a big doubler for that, and a 2/1 double striker isn’t so bad for 3.

FromTheShire: You’re paying a tax for the reusability, but this is Commander and you’re in green, you’ll be fine. Being able to give something, most likely Shalai, double strike every turn means you’re going to have a lethal threat in very short order since you’re also giving a counter along with the ability.


Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Guardian Scalelord

BPhillipYork: Probably too expensive. Sure you can get back something juicy, but Naya decks are usually very aggressive, and is this an on attack trigger, the thing you’re returning won’t get to attack, and it’s most likely to be a creature. However white does have some decent ETB’s to fetch lands and things. Of course you could be returning a Dockside Extortionist to the field but if you’re so lucky that’s just kind of a crazy game. The other reality is using this in white/black decks to return things like Dance of the Dead.

FromTheShire: In an average deck I think I’m likely sticking with Sun Titan due to the ETB, slightly larger body and vigilance, and sheer inertia. In a Dragon deck I think this is a great inclusion though, and I’m certainly not taking it out of this deck for Titan.


Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Uncivil Unrest

BPhillipYork: This is pretty solid. Expensive, but riot for mon-red is really, really nice. Combine that with a damage doubler for +1/+1 counters and that’s an extremely solid card to pump your creatures and give haste. It’s also not combat damage as in this will double all damage, including things like Heartless Hidetsugu or Terror of the Peaks or even a Tim that you’ve put a counter on.

FromTheShire: I actually think this is a pretty solid rate, you’re not only getting a one-sided Furnace of Rath, you’re also getting the supremely useful riot ability. Some absolutely dumb things you can do with cards like the aforementioned Hidetsugu or Malignus, love it.


Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Ichor Elixir

BPhillipYork: Well this is at least a 3rd 4 cost mana rock that taps for 2, if you want that this is even more redundancy. The Planar dice will mostly just get ignored, but it’s solid if you’re playing a Planechase game.

FromTheShire: Everyone should be playing Planechase regularly so this has some added utility. More expensive rocks are slowly fading away as the game speeds up but in the average game stuff like this is still perfectly fine, not every card can be Sol Ring. Being able to manipulate the planar die is really cool and useful, especially in a deck with other effects that care about it like the always excellent Fractured Powerstone.


Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Mirror-Style Master

BPhillipYork: This is crazy, and has the potential to make an absurd amount of creatures in a solid +1/+1 counter deck. Given its cost though it’s pretty balanced. Still a fun card for battlecruiser decks.

FromTheShire: Love it. Even if this was just doubling your team it’s really good, but when you consider all of the ETB’s that are in the average deck you see the true potential. Just in the stock deck you’re putting a bunch of extra counters and effects from backup from the copies, and it only scales up from there.


Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Emergent Woodwurm

BPhillipYork: This is potentially going to allow you to just dump out huge permanents. I feel like there has to be some way to break this but I can’t figure out what it is. At its worst though it’s a 7/7 Wurm for 7 mana that when it attacks look at the top 7 cards of your library and put a permanent card with mana value 7 or less into play.

FromTheShire: 4/4 is an interesting break point for this body, it’s big enough that you might be fine to give the counters to something else bigger for a larger dig and guaranteed hit. I think the majority of the time though you are going to be putting the counters on itself for the greater long term consistency.


Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Path of the Pyromancer

BPhillipYork: To me this is a really really solid card for Underworld Breach decks and decks that want to draw a lot and to fill their yard. It won’t combo right with Breach – you’ll lose 1 card per cast, but you’d net 3 mana, assuming you start with a full hand. Of course if you start with more then you’d be good to go. The secondary Planechase ability is interesting, more votes, more planeswalking.

FromTheShire: I love me a Wheel of Fortune style effect, and while this keys off of hand size, that can be a plus or a minus depending on how things are going. On top of that, you get immediate mana so this could well be free or net you mana, and then it interacts with Planechase as well? Sign me up.


Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Conclave Sledge-Captain

BPhillipYork: 3 instances of backup 1 means you can have 1 creature get a lot of +1/+1 counters on it, if you used all 3 on Shalai and Hallar it would deal 1 damage to an opponent 3 times, then when you swung through it would then deal an additional 6 + 6 + 6 damage (sadly all the instances would go on the stack at once) though if you had double strike you’d get 6 + 6 + 6 and then they’d be 21/21 and another 3*21 damage, meaning you could do 27 combat damage to one player, 3 instances of 21 damage, and 3 of 6 damage, which is 18+21 = 39 and 42 and the person you attacked is dying to Commander damage. Funny.

FromTheShire: Yeah this card is stupid good. Not busted, just Damn. Even getting to double the size of your 3 best creatures is excellent, more so with the kinds of synergies you can have to take advantage of it.


Playing Call for Backup out of the box is a deck with 38 lands, 5 mana rocks, 2 mana dorks, and 3 ways to fetch lands. The average mana value of the deck is 3.57 without lands. It’s a 3 color deck without significantly good ways to mana fix, rather relying on lots of land and filter lands, Command Tower but not City of Brass or Mana Confluence. The lands include 11 that enter the battlefield tapped, 5 that enter conditionally tapped, 4 that only tap for colorless, 3 filter lands, and 13 basics. With a deck like this, and 47 spells costing 3 or more mana you can expect to be both flooded and unable to cast your spells at times.

Given all that, and a Commander that doesn’t produce value, you’ll probably want to drop out only a creature or two when you can and expect to just try to rope-a-dope into mid game when you can recover from a board clear, and set up to deal some damage. Once you get 2-3 creatures out you should be able to generate a lot of +1/+1 counters, but you have to be careful because there isn’t a lot you can do about another board clear. Most of your creatures aren’t huge and also don’t have evasion abilities, so they’ll die if you just throw them out there.

This is the “vanilla” decklist:

Rebuilding the deck is basically the usual process – remove ETB tapped lands, substitute in “better” aka typed duals, more basics (yes more, most precons have unnecessary non-basic duals, and then run cards like Kodama’s Reach and Fertilid, such that they can quite easily run out of basics to search for.)

Focus on the core aspects or the deck – getting +1/+1 counters out on small creatures and spreading them around, then leveraging the growth in +1/+1 counters via varied abilities to turn small creatures into big fatties. At the same time, protect the creatures hopefully in ways that lend further synergies. Cut down on over costed creatures and big “haymakers” in favor of castable board building permanents. Increase the amount of interaction, both to protect your creatures and to prevent opponents wins. Naya isn’t amazing at interaction but there are solid spells.

It would be a very on point deck if “Call for Backup” meant tutoring up creatures that keep your creatures alive, but running a ton of tutors wouldn’t really fit the “precon-esque” environment, such decks are too consistent and will just overrun (get it) other precon-esque decks. The standard plan of running small cheap ramping creatures and then ramming out an End-Raze Forerunners to pump all your creatures and just instantly overwhelm your opponents is a pretty well understand strategy.

This deck runs a combination of Backup, Bolster, Mentor, Training and non-keyworded +1/+1 counter abilities, as well as some doublers. All this should lead to a more consistent build up to dangerous levels of creatures, all with interlocking abilities that will let you keep spreading around more and more counters. There should be more consistent triggered card draw, and a significant number of enchantments to let you draw off creatures entering and smoothly keep you from stalling out. Holding up mana to interact is key with this deck, so focusing on smaller, hopefully ramping casts early is the way to go.

These are solid cards to add to the deck:

Tribute to the World Tree Buff and card draw
Rhythm of the Wild Buff and haste
The Great Henge Buff and card draw
Hopeful Initiate Solid trigger and control
Torens, Fist of the Angels Solid +1+1 source and tokens
Vikya, Scorching Stalwart Solid +1+1 source and control
Tajic, Legion’s Edge Mentor and non-combat damage protection
Doomskar Warrior Pseudo Draw and +1/+1 source
Mirror-Shield Hoplite Aggravating this isn’t in the deck to begin with, it’s a backup deck and this is the backup doubler and it’s in colors so…
All Will Be One Solid, solid control card
Kami of Whispered Hopes A ramping mana source that is also a +1/+1 doubler
Ozolith, the Shattered Spire New Ozolith, solid +1/+1 source, cycling if you need to dump it, and a +1/+1 doubler all in one package
Dusk Legion Duelist Card draw
Esper Sentinel Card draw
Heroic Intervention Protection from wipes
Unbreakable Formation Protection from wipes with potential +1/+1 stapled on
Bala Ged Recovery // Bala Ged Sanctuary One of the best MDFCs in my opinion
Fellwar Stone 2 Cost mana fixer mana rock
Myriad Landscape Land ramp
Boseiju, Who Endures Control
Fires of Yavimaya Giving haste and protecting key creatures
Karn’s Bastion Mid-late game proliferate if you need it
Jetmir’s Garden Mana fixing and can be cycled
Sylvan Library Pseudo-draw and selection
Boros Charm Creature protection, potential double strike
Kodama of the West Tree Ramp off modified
Abrade Very solid control card
Shadow in the Warp Solid group slug effect with cost reduction for creatures stapled on so you can more easily hold up to interact
Cindervines Really solid group slug effect that also lets you sac it to destroy an artifact or enchantment
Birds of Paradise Really necessary ramper and fixer early that can be turned into a beater later
Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines Doubling backup tokens is just super fun.


1 Ichor Elixir
1 Emergent Woodwurm
1 Path of the Pyromancer
1 Alharu, Solemn Ritualist
1 Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin
1 Hamza, Guardian of Arashin
1 Path of Ancestry
1 Mossfire Valley
1 Temple of Triumph
1 Commander’s Sphere
1 Forgotten Ancient
1 Managorger Hydra
1 Triskelion
1 Wood Elves
1 Genesis Hydra
1 Sunscorch Regent
1 Temple of the False God
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Rogue’s Passage
1 Brawn
1 Enduring Scalelord
1 Field of Ruin
1 Good-Fortune Unicorn
1 Heaven // Earth
1 Hindervines
1 High Sentinels of Arashin
1 Juniper Order Ranger
1 Pridemalkin
1 Restoration Angel
1 Slurrk, All-Ingesting
1 Sungrass Prairie
1 Temple of Abandon
1 Temple of Plenty
1 Terramorphic Expanse

Here’s the final deck list:


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