Hanukkah started last Sunday, so I thought it would be fun to take a break from my usual “This Day in Magic History” column and instead do something in commemoration of the holiday. In this post, we’ll look at my Hanukkah-themed Commander deck! Before we do, though, let me give you a brief history lesson on what Hanukkah celebrates. That way, my card choices will make a lot more sense!
A Brief History of Hanukkah
During the 2nd century C.E., the Jews in the Levant lived under the rule of the Seleucid Empire. By 168 B.C.E., this empire was ruled by a Greek king named Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who undertook a campaign of persecution against the Jewish people.
Antiochus wanted the Jews to give up their faith and language to assimilate into Greek society. As part of this campaign, he seized the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and converted it into a pagan shrine. The Temple was the center of Jewish religion and believed to be God’s home on Earth, so its desecration was the last straw for many Jews.
This led to the outbreak of a full-blown rebellion, led by Mattatias and Judah Maccabee. By 161 B.C.E., the Maccabean Revolt had pushed the Seleucids out of Jerusalem and a swath of territory around it.
When Jews were finally able to go to the Temple again, they found it in a terrible state, with many of the Temple’s artifacts in need of repair. One of the biggest problems was the fact that the eternal flame had been extinguished.
This flame was meant to always stay burning, so the Jews who reclaimed the Temple lit the flame. However, they only had enough oil for a single day and wouldn’t be able to get more oil for more than a week.
Miraculously, this meager amount of oil kept the flame burning for eight days, until they could receive more oil. So, the Temple was rededicated to God, and that’s what the holiday is all about! In fact “Hanukkah” means dedication!
In commemoration of this miracle, Hanukkah lasts for eight days, with the menorah lit every night. Due to the miracle of the oil, Jews also consume a variety of foods that are fried in oil. This includes fried potato pancakes, donuts and more.
Now, let’s dive into the deck tech, with special attention paid to the deck’s most flavorful cards!
Just as the Maccabeean Revolt had its two major leaders, this deck has two partner Commanders: Ich-Tekik, Salvage Splicer and Silas Renn, Seeker Adept. As you can guess from looking at these two, this deck is about both the graveyard and Artifacts. This seemed like an excellent fit for a deck that is all about commemorating the restoration of the Temple and its artifacts.
Ich-Tekik represents Mattathias, who was the first to organize a revolt against the Seleucids. Ich-Tekik powers himself and his Golem up when Artifacts go to the graveyard, which is a great fit for the man who started the revolt!
On top of that, Ich-Tekik brings some additional flavor to the deck. He is all about Golems, which have their origins in Jewish folklore. This deck has a Golem sub-theme as a result.
Silas Renn represents Matthatias’ son, Judah. After his father’s death, Judah became the leader of the revolt, and the war was won under his leadership.
Silas can get you artifacts back from the graveyard, just as Judah restored the Temple and the Eternal Flame! The two work quite well together, too, as Ich-Tekik wants your artifacts and the graveyard and Silas Renn can keep bringing them back.
Because the central event of Hanukkah is a miracle, it would be a pretty big mistake not to include some Magic miracles! Luckily, these cards are pretty darn powerful when cast for their Miracle cost, so they are a great inclusion anyway.
Devastation Tide will keep your opponents from developing their board while Revenge of the Hunted can help Ich-Tekik get in for big Commander damage. Finally, when in doubt, taking an extra, unexpected turn is never a bad thing through Temporal Mastery.
The deck’s miracles also really work well with another flavorful card: Sensei’s Divining Top. This card is included because, during Hanukkah, children play a game where they spin a top called a dreidel.
Casting the deck’s miracles thanks to the Top is also super flavorful! A dreidel has four Hebrew letters on it: Nun (נ), Gimel ( ג), Hey (ה) , and Shin (ש). These letters stand for the phrase “Naas gadol hayah sham,” which means “A miracle happened here.” So, casting a miracle thanks to your top is probably the deck’s biggest flavor win!
The menorah is central to the celebration of Hanukkah, so we really have to include some candles! It just so happens these candles happen to be artifacts, too, so Silas Renn can bring them back like rekindling the eternal flame. Candelabra of Tawnos can go wild if you get a land in play that produces multiple mana, and Candles of Leng will almost always draw you a card when you use the ability.
The Food and the Oil
As is the case for most holidays, food is central for Hanukkah! This means the deck features a food sub-theme. The fact that Food tokens just happen to be artifacts makes them work great with your commanders, too! Gingerbrute even happens to be both a Food and a Golem!
You have to include some oil, too. After all, it isn’t Hanukkah if you aren’t eating fried foods! While Midnight Oil doesn’t refer to cooking oil, it is as close as we’re going to get it. It also happens to be a powerful card advantage Enchantment, and it can even help you load your graveyard for Silas!
This deck may not always win you the game like the Maccabees won their war, but in Judaism it is the tradition that counts. And whenever you sleeve up this deck and take it for a spin, you are certainly remembering the miracle of Hanukkah and what it meant for the Jewish people.
That’s all for today! I hope you enjoyed this festive deck tech, and have a happy holiday season!
Jacob has been playing Magic for the better part of 24 years, and he especially loves playing Magic’s Limited formats. He also holds a PhD in history from the University of Oklahoma. In 2015, he started his YouTube channel, “Nizzahon Magic,” where he combines his interests with many videos covering Magic’s competitive history. When he’s not playing Magic or making Magic content, he can be found teaching college-level history courses or caring for a menagerie of pets with his wife.