Welcome back to another edition of Card Kingdom Commanders, the series that gives you an exclusive look at the many decks and faces you’ll find behind the scenes at Card Kingdom and Mox Boarding House. This week, I’ll be telling you a little bit more about one of my fellow CK Blog writers.
MEET ADAM KLESH
Adam works upstairs with me in Fulfillment, packing and shipping all the Magic, but I met him in Mox, on the battlefield, playing Commander. One of our mutual friends has a tough time commuting to Mox Seattle, so we’d get together every so often to play. As quickly as two sociable introverts can, we clicked, talking about everything from competitive Pokemon battling to the podcast he hosts with his wife.
Our table learned quickly not to underestimate Adam. From construction to the kitchen table, Adam’s style and deck-building acumen are a fundamental blend of casual, disciplined, and sometimes surprising choices. This is all part of Adam’s goal— to “spread out the battle,” as he puts it, and, “not win all at once.” And it works! Adam scoffs at the very suggestion of infinite combos, and his tact and restraint against playing some of the format’s most prevalent offenders is my favorite part about his game.
THE ORIGIN OF WU STRATEGY
When it came time to interview him for this column, Adam surprised me by choosing Zhuge Jin as his signature deck – not Kruphix, his longtime favorite. He assured me this wasn’t just a passing, honeymoon phase with a new deck, but a true step toward designing something that’s not only more fun, but also offsets politics and preconceived notions better than the God of Horizons.
Adam chose Zhuge Jin when he unearthed it from his binder of potential Tiny Leader leaders. Wanting to take a different tactic with Mono-Blue than just counterspells and control, he saw Zhuge Jin as an opportunity to be aggressive, triggering the rarely-used Stealer of Secrets-type cards that get lost in Limited, drawing cards while not drawing hate. Upon noticing that most of the creatures he had in mind were Rogues, he began to construct a narrative: Zhuge Jin had built an underground network of thieves and shady miscreants, and was helping them to unlock doors and draw cards like they never had before.
MEET ADAM’S DECK
It’s easy to see Zhuge Jin’s core competency: the draw engine. With only fifteen instants and sorceries, this deck is less concerned with disruption, and more concerned with combat. Redundancies with card draw triggers like Coastal Piracy help to ensure that the deck finds its best cards, changing the age-old Mono-Blue moniker of “Draw, Go,” to “Attack, Draw, Go.”
Although we still see some of blue’s best in Cyclonic Rift and Counterspell, limiting the quantities enhances the gaming aspect of Adam’s deck. Not only does it make for a fun challenge of guessing whether he’s drawn an answer, but it’s also supported by the card draw, which makes these cards easier to conceal.
KEYS TO VICTORY
While Adam says the deck is fairly intuitive, there are some tricky nuances that keep the games tight and the deck on-theme.
Keeper of Keys and Fireshrieker are two of Adam’s personal favorites. The Human Rogue Mutant is an unofficial Commander, and a big part of the game plan. Keeper creates a Monarch token, which helps Adam draw cards and adds another political element to the game. By providing an unblockable anthem when he is the Monarch, it helps support the card draw support on the combat side, ensuring that either way, Adam is going to be getting the cards he wants.
Fireshrieker is a Commander regular, but Adam likes it because it’s got a different rhythm in Zhuge Jin, scaling from pokes for multiple card draw, to a potential game-ender when equipped to Zhuge Jin with Strata Scythe for a surprise Commander damage attack.
Smuggler’s Copter and Merfolk Looter are two of my favorites in his deck. The former is a definite include for Rogue decks, not to mention one-power support Commanders everywhere; the latter is my hands-down favorite creature besides Solemn Simulacrum. Seeing an extra card or two per game from Merfolk Looter often prevents you from getting stuck on land, and with cards like Wonder and Deep Analysis, Looter can make for some very exciting value.
Easily, the best card in the deck is Notorious Throng. With so many Rogues and anthem support via Obelisk of Urd or Hall of Triumph, it’s easy for Adam to turn four one-power creatures into twenty damage over the course of two consecutive combat phases. Cards like Strata Scythe and Stoneforge Masterwork can provide similar effects if the deck needs to narrow its combat focus. Overall, being able to pay Prowl cost on Notorious Throng consistently after you’ve dealt upwards of ten damage is often enough to steal a game out from under his opponent(s).
FUTURE WU PLANNING
While Adam continues to straddle the casual/competitive balance with this deck, there’s still about ten or so cards he wants to play and evaluate. Catch-all redundancies like Jace’s Ingenuity, Dig Through Time, and Treasure Cruise are serious considerations, which would also lead to cutting Runechanter’s Pike. With the land count sitting at a light 32, I expect Adam to replace at least a few of these cards with Islands and Skeleton Key, a card that came up during our game as another flavor and functional piece of support.
But even with all this talk of structure, there are still some nice surprises in this list. When we were going through the deck, we joked about the inclusion of Void Winnower, and how it looked, well, “odd.” To our surprise, Adam got to play it in our match. The Winnower’s numerical restrictions were just the thing he needed to attack, cast Notorious Throng, and steal a game right out from under me, and I couldn’t even.
For most of his Magic-playing life, Aaron has been playing and writing about Commander. One of the few mono-colored players in a gold-bordered world, Aaron enjoys the challenges of creating meaningful, memorable games, as well as the excitement that comes with engaging underrated cards as he explores the format’s uncharted territory. A disciplined deckbuilder with over 200 lists to his name, Aaron has spent the past several years creating content about his favorite format.