Somewhere in Ixalan’s never-ending, Neverland-esque Pirate-Dinosaur skirmish, our imagination, childhood, and hearts were smitten with the possibilities of some of the most refreshing designs to date. And boy, they didn’t disappoint! While most have been taken with the overabundance of new creature types, the biggest win for me is a long-standing theory I’ve held about creatures and the color pie: Any creature can be any color and still demonstrate compelling design. Beyond the swashbuckling and prehistoric clamoring, it is this projected and design-injected imagination that’s got me excited, and so I’ve built a deck around the first Ixalan preview card I saw that caught my eye: Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle.
While most of the Commander-playing world prefers playing multiple colors, I have a soft spot for the mono-colored. Mono-colored decks regulate game variance and challenge me to accept specific constraints. (You know what they say: restrictions breed creativity!) In doing so, I’ve learned how to better handle threats when situations get bad and cultivated a unique style of play that I’m proud of.
Mavren is also quite unique. He’s a Vampire in an odd color, and an aggressive card in cost and power. He’s no Hero of Bladehold, but he has potential to serve as the centerpiece for a token-based strategy that can end games quickly.
Ultimately, what compelled me to build this deck was the challenge of using Mavren and these Ixalan Vampires to craft a game-winning plan. As I often do when building a new Commander deck, I asked myself: What could I do that would subvert expectations?
Rather than build an anthem-heavy tokens strategy, we’re going to combo instead. Our plan is to pay life with Adanto Vanguard or Glorifier of Dusk to power up Soul Conduit, Reverse the Sands, Ixalan’s Axis of Mortality, or even win with Near-Death Experience.
In this way, Mavren will act as an early-game instigator, giving the impression that we have some aggressive plan that can easily be dealt with. At this point, we’ll have to do some life total management – take damage (but not too much), pay life when necessary, and hopefully drop our life total as low as we can at the end of an opponent’s turn so that we can turn around and power out a big swap.
We have a good strategy, but there are also plenty of artistic, flavorful choices that make it compelling. My favorites are the “reformed Vampire” cards: Crovax, Ascendant Hero, and Teferi’s Protection. Both cards were once Vampire-themed in their lifetime, and it felt awesome to include them in a deck where they are great choices for more practical reasons. In addition to Vampire buffs, Crovax is a protectable threat that can help us swallow our life total when we need to. Teferi’s Protection can then help us survive at a critical moment, and edged out Angel’s Grace, despite the latter being a superior option.
One of my favorite ways to enhance a deck’s theme is to pick cards that have great titles and thematic language. With Conqueror’s Galleon, Thaumatic Compass, Treasure Map, Dowsing Dagger, and Legion’s Landing, we have a strong theme of exploration and transformation, supported by Ixalan and its double-sided cards. In addition to Smuggler’s Copter, Extraplanar Lens, Weathered Wayfarer, Expedition Map, and Endless Horizons, these cards provide important support in the form of hitting land drops. As many of our cards and combos require as much as twelve mana to cast and activate, it’s important that we are committed to a mana-acceleration plan. It’s really nice to have double-sided cards that become lands, particularly when they tap for more mana than we bargained for!
The other theme I focused on was Mavren’s identity as a Vampire Cleric and “Dusk Apostle.” Mostly for my own amusement, I’ve fortified our deck with as many thoughtful instances of light and sun as I could: Sun Titan, Dawn to Dusk, Dusk//Dawn, Spare From Evil, Second Sunrise, and Devouring Light. Many of these happen to be great utility cards which protect our creatures and combos. More Cleric-focused cards like Tithe, Apostle’s Blessing, Holy Day, Repel the Darkness, and Sanguine Sacrament are also good in-a-pinch remedies for when the game goes sideways.
While I do enjoy adhering to theme, it’s important to know when to veer off-course and just play cards that help our game plan. Phyrexian Processor is the biggest offender in this list. Processor was originally part of an old Children of Korlis combo I had in a Lin Sivvi deck a few years ago. I included it for nostalgia, but it also serves as an alternate win condition that goes along with our “depleting life total” theme. Recruiter of the Guard also rides the line more than I like, but we needed a way to tutor for Adanto Vanguard, and I didn’t like Planar Bridge or Portal more than Recruiter.
This list can use some tweaks, but I think it has serious potential. It has a strong support system with tangible goals for each point in the game. The deck can problem solve some of its harder match-ups, particularly aggressive decks with Craterhoof Behemoth, and handle the rigors of a color-shifted strategy. The deck has some unique adaptability, as it can unlock even more power and tricks with Vona in the mix. A few extra tutors or card draw spells would put this deck well on its way to stealing life totals and sneaking away with victories everywhere!
Header design: Justin Treadway
Header image: “Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle” by Daarken