With a whole crew of new legendary creatures coming in Dominaria, Commander players everywhere have a massive metagame shift to look forward to at the end of the month. In preparation, I’ve started brewing again, and I hope you are too! Today, we’re going to check out a list built around Dominaria’s Serra Avatar extraordinaire: Evra, Halcyon Witness.
While I have a real soft spot for mono-colored Commanders, elegant card designs are always going to excite me in the right ways. As “Avatar of Serra Avatar,” Evra’s smart, simple text exudes Magic nostalgia, and it’s also a tricky addition to the Mono-White suite of Commanders. Combined with the ability to channel your life total into damage, the transaction can also make for some neat synergies.
Back in Ixalan, I built a Mavren Fein list to demonstrate how Mono-White could implement a classic Mono-Black “life total matters” strategy. What was cool about that list was its streamlined direction: our life total would go directly down, so if we could find a Near-Death Experience or Axis of Mortality, we could shortcut our way to victory.
Evra is a different kind of life total deck. While we will often want to be powering up Evra with life points, we have a challenge: we want to swing with 20+ points, but we also don’t want to lose our life completely.
By adopting a heavier Control game plan, we can apply pressure with some of the same cards from Mavren, and with a few new lifegain spells, we can implement some synergies that will offset our life total exchange while anticipating potential disruption.
When playing with focused threats, one of the best ways we can implement our game plan is to count on our opponents to try and stop us. Evra can hit for a ton of damage, so she’s a huge target even if she isn’t your Commander. Plus, her colorless activation can be incredibly dangerous, especially if an opponent takes control of her.
Obviously, Reverse the Sands, Axis of Mortality, and Soul Conduit come back to us from the Mavren build, but with a different twist. As a very large, Commander-sized target, Evra does these cards a huge favor on the threat axis. Casting Axis and Soul Conduit before casting Evra can almost dissuade attacking for threat of activation on its own, while casting it after our Commander will yield more attention.
Although I have added many familiar utility spells, the deck’s more unique cards are focused on mitigating Evra’s pitfalls. Breath of Life, Miraculous Recovery, Emeria Shepherd, Karmic Guide, God-Pharaoh’s Gift, and a handful of White’s other Reanimate effects solve our most direct problem: removal. Most players will attempt to deal with Evra immediately or prevent us from casting her; obviously, we can’t let that happen. These spells allow us to send Evra to the graveyard, where we can offset rising costs dramatically as the game progresses.
The lifegain in this deck is meant to help offset our exchange in life from 40 to 4. Resolute Archangel and Children of Korlis are perhaps the most common sources of lifegain, but the pool is deep. Oketra’s Last Mercy, Animal Boneyard, and Worthy Cause are the secret tech that I love to brag about, and I will just a little bit. Children of Korlis is good because it protects our life total without hurting Evra, but if we have a removal problem, Worthy Cause is a really nice substitute that our opponents won’t see coming. With their drawbacks, Oketra’s Last Mercy and Animal Boneyard are slightly more ambitious – the latter is a decent early game card to cast without prompting retaliation, and the former is the kind of silly gamble we might have to take when we’re trying to end the game, or when we’re in a serious pinch.
While our low-cost lifegain is great, our haymakers are where the real fun is at! Eternity Vessel is perhaps the real MVP, returning to us from general irrelevance, while Archangel’s Light is a massive boon, bringing us life while refueling our spell-heavy deck with the tools we need to keep grinding.
Aside from Evra, we have a couple decent backdoor plans that are regulars in the “Life Gain Matters” decks. The first involves creating a Pegasus army the size of our life total with Storm Herd. The second is Felidar Sovereign. Although I removed the steadfast Teferi’s Protection from my final round of cuts, adding that back in will certainly help increase the chances of a Felidar Sovereign victory.
What I like about this deck in testing is that it has a fundamental consistency. It keeps in line with traditional Control decks that want to open with lands and removal, and it can functionally come from behind without much effort, thanks to the Wrath effects and the always handy Isochron Scepter.
When this deck has accelerated its mana, look out! With its Reanimate effects, there is enough resiliency to feel confident being an early game aggressor if your opponents aren’t paying attention.
The deckbuilding process is another thing to note in terms of expectations, simply because there are a lot of good cards I ultimately decided against. Adding Djeru and Planeswalkers would’ve powered up Thalia’s Lancers, which is mostly in the deck to find lands right now. Over time, I will consider Elspeth, Knight-Errant and Ajani, Caller of the Pride to help push damage through, and maybe an Ajani Goldmane, for Serra Avatar’s sake.
Header design: Justin Treadway
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.