Cook’s Kitchen – An Update: Kresh, the Bloodbraided
A while back I wrote this article about my Commander General – Kresh, the Bloodbraided . This is the update!
The local Commander game in Syracuse, NY and surrounding areas is the exact opposite of casual. If you’re not winning, you’re not having too much fun. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Nick Patnode and I can fit in about twenty to twenty-five, one-on-one games in an hour sometimes. Yes, our games end pretty quickly. Both Godo, the Bandit Warlord and Kaalia of the Vast are turn three decks, if the game hasn’t been decided by that point in time, we know it’s going to be a very long one. But this is fun in our own way; the two of us don’t really enjoy forty-minute games where only one person is the victor. On top of people like Nick there are even more players just like us, meaning, that my Kresh, the Bloodbraided deck doesn’t get a whole lot of action. But that’s why I’m writing! I’m looking to improve him even more beyond what I already have in recent weeks. I’ve done a massive overhaul on poor Kresh. He’s practically had a facelift, but it was time for a structural update. I’ve always kept my Godo, Bandit Warlord deck up-to-date and highly competitive while Kresh, the Bloodbraided sat on the sidelines as more of a forgotten deck. Not anymore! Kresh is back, he’s fierce and looking to splatter blood.
The first thing I did during the restructure was look at my latest list and began evaluating the weakest cards. The process of change for improvement is searching for a problem, evaluating, and then scouring for a solution.
Kresh, the Bloodbraided
Well after staring at the deck and talking to a few fellow Commander enthusiasts we came to a conclusion. If the deck runs too many reactive cards, your deck just isn’t viable. It’s nothing against people who play Commander for the casual aspect, but my playgroups are vicious. Sitting there stopping other people will not suffice in the long run, being proactive and making others answer you is just a better option. The odds are that you will win more games by playing the better offense rather than defense, being in the driver’s seat is also a lot more comfortable rather than keeping on your heels. One of the reasons Godo, Bandit Warlord is so successful is that it just doesn’t care about other strategies for the most part. Godo has a clear-cut game plan and is designed to execute that strategy with a few cards here and there to answer opposing threats or roadblocks. It became very obvious to me what cards needed to leave Kresh, the Bloodbraided as a result of this realization:
While not all of these cards are bad or undeserving to be in a Kresh Commander deck, they just weren’t good enough for the competitive direction I wanted to pursue. Lands that entered the battlefield tapped were an easy cut, I never liked drawing them past turn one and the abilities on them often weren’t worth the sacrifice of being tapped the turn they came down. Explosive Vegetation was a tough cut for me, that card has been in Kresh since the beginning for me. The problem is it doesn’t actually accelerate the deck to where it needs to be. It’s not aiming to go from turn four to turn seven during the untap step, the deck would have liked to win the game by then. Paired with the fact that the lands come into play tapped and aren’t dual lands, unlike with Skyshroud Claim, really hurt its chances of inclusion.
Skullclamp, Graveborn Muse, and Disciple of Bolas were all a part of the draw package. Skullclamp is by far the best of the three, but there’s no real way to take advantage of it in Kresh, there’s no token generators and not enough creatures with only one power. Maybe this will change someday, but for now, it’s sitting on the sidelines. The two black creatures just are too slow and didn’t have enough of an impact. Playing with them is fine, but every time I had either card, I just wished they were something else. When that’s the case, they probably shouldn’t have made the cut in the first place. The same could have been said for Garruk, Primal Hunter. The problem with Garruk was that he was often a five mana Harmonize rather than the five mana draw twelve off of Kresh I had hoped for. In hindsight, it was rather ridiculous of me to think that would happen when I rarely cast my general.
Vandalblast, Dreadbore, Profane Command, Jund Charm, Damnation, Relic Crush, and Violent Ultimatum are all removal that just didn’t make the cut for the next lists. There was simply too much creature hate in Kresh and not enough cards to advance its strategies. Each one of these cards besides Dreadbore was a difficult decision to take out of the deck. Vandalblast is a phenomenal card in my local metagame against Godo, Kaalia, and Sharuum but is rather lack luster against decks not from the area. Kresh already has other cards with a similar effect, which brings down Vandalblast’s value too. All of the same things could be said for Relic Crush too except for the fact that it’s slow and can’t be cast in the opening turns when it’s highly relevant to destroy Artifacts and Enchantments. Jund Charm and Violent Ultimatum were cards that I’ve been gripping on to for too long based on their “flavor” so to speak. They are Jund, they are Kresh, however, they are underwhelming and not worth their costs. I really wanted to keep Profane Command for its recursion ability when it hit me, why not just play actual animate spells?
Genesis. This card was still in my lists from the shambles of the Angry Tradewind Survival (ATS) days in Legacy, a carry-over so to speak. It never occurred to me that it just actually isn’t that good. Drawing Genesis is the absolute worst and it’s rarely useful until the late game. Late game specific cards are not what I’m looking to accomplish with this deck, cards such as these won’t cut it in cut-throat Commander metagames. The new Kresh wants to be winning the game long before the late game.
Fleshbag Marauder, Flametongue Kavu, Shreikmaw, and Inferno Titan were all victims of being reactive without another function, the cards that replaced these will be talked about a bit more in depth as we continue – Murderous Redcap. Bloodbraid Elf, Acidic Slime, Thragtusk, Wurmcoil Engine, and Sylvan Primordial are all value creatures, which may be theoretically good, but aren’t. These creatures are all fine, except for the fact that they don’t fit into a structured game plan. They’re all stand-alone cards based on winning from small gains – the direction I had in mind doesn’t win by incremental advantages.
I knew what cards needed to go, but I wasn’t really sure about where I wanted to go with the strategy. I had a few concepts based on preexisting archetypes in mind.
Cheating large creatures into play: Cheating large creatures into play through Animate Dead, Sneak Attack or Through the Breach appeared to be an instant solution. The problem with this strategy was that there were too many insufficient opening hands from inconsistencies, it seemed like every starting seven either lacked a large creature or would have too many. Rarely would I get those well balanced hands that were meant for one another, it was rather disappointing. Another discovery I had was that the options for large creatures in Jund colors was rather weak compared to some others. I mean, I did find some fantastic targets for the first ten to twelve creatures, but after that point I found myself stretching looking for viable options. One treasure I did find was Worldgorger Dragon, it was really awesome to play with this card again. Considering that I haven’t touched the card since “Legacy” was “Type 1.5”. Either way, it was fun but not as good as I hoped. I’m quite happy I didn’t invest in a Bazaar of Baghdad just yet, they’re still incredibly expensive!
Mill yourself combo: The thought was based off of Jon Barber’s highly successful Mimeoplasm self-milling combo deck. When I realized that Kresh has all of the proper tools to play Hermit Druid as well, the gears started turning. The entire deck is based around putting Hermit Druid into play and activating to win the game. The deck aimed to mill itself and then play a land to bring back Bloodghast, Unearth Dreadscape Zombie, and play Gravecrawler from the graveyard. At the point, flashback Dread Return targeting Necrotic Ooze and win in various ways. I thought it would be fun, the brutal truth is that the deck is incredibly linear and lost my interest quickly, every game was exactly the same. While Hermit Druid combo is highly competitive, it’s also highly repetitive. Although, I will say this, the deck is incredibly consistent. I understand that I said I wanted the deck to be competitive and cut-throat, however, this is still a casual format played for leisure. I want the deck to at least maintain my interest while playing games with it. There had to be other direction I could go with some variety in game-play.
Paired creature combo: I just couldn’t think of a better thing to call this archetype, forgive me. This was by far my most successful concept, it began with the Modern Birthing Pod combo decks. In my previous list I had already incorporated the Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combo when paired with Zealous Conscripts to create infinite Zealous Conscripts. I wanted to expand off of this idea, I continued to look across a range of lists with high placing finishes. I decided that it may be worth it to try Splinter Twin as an additional way to win with Zealous Conscripts, the problem was that it was really only good with Conscripts and maybe Terastodon. With all of the value creatures leaving Splinter Twin wasn’t really worth the consideration. Another idea I stumbled across while looking at Modern Birthing Pod lists was to include the Melira, Sylok Outcast combo with Murderous Redcap!
Murderous Redcap was the creature solution to the other “value creatures” I mentioned earlier. Redcap deals with pesky opposing Commanders like Kaalia of the Vast or Azuza, Lost but Seeking but it’s also a combo piece! When Murderous Recap is paired with Melira, Sylok Outcast and a “Sacrifice Outlet” such as Skirk Prospector, Ashnod’s Alter, Dimir House Guard or even Greater Good it can deal a whole lot of damage, even infinite damage! The problems with these cards, is that outside of having all of the combo pieces together, they’re pretty weak on their own and don’t pull their own weight. The best usage of any of these cards on their own besides Murderous Redcap I can think of is Melira stopping a Godo, Bandit Warlord with Grafted Exoskeleton from having a turn three kill. However, this is an extreme corner case.
Murderous Redcap is still incredibly useful on its own. At least it kills things! My favorite use of Murderous Recap is to set up a completely different combo. If Birthing Pod is in play, you can sacrifice Redcap to Pod, return it, search your deck for Zealous Conscripts with Pod, untap Birthing Pod with Conscripts and sacrifice Recap again to search for Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. At this point, make infinite Zealous Conscripts and swing for lethal!
Murderous Redcap has one last and final interaction in this combo deck. When Recap is paired with Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and a “Sacrifice Outlet”, it can deal infinite damage. It’s actually the same combo as Melira except for the fact that the deck only has a singular “Sacrifice Outlet” now in Greater Good. The best thing to do at this point, is to flashback Dread Return and win with a different combo. Mikaeus, the Unhallowed’s inclusion in Kresh wasn’t for that interaction, but instead was put into Kresh’s 99 to deal infinite damage without attacking with a Triskilion in play. When both creatures are on the battlefield, Triskilion can deal two damage and then, ping itself to enable the Undying trigger, at this point Triskilion comes back onto the battlefield with four counters. Remove three counters to deal three damage, and target Triskilion again, to bring itself back and repeat.
Triskilion, like Mikaeus, the Unhallowed is a multi-purpose card. Remember the days when Survival of the Fittest was legal in Legacy? It’s alright if you don’t, I tried to forget those days too. Those days did have a really cool interaction though that didn’t involve Vengevine. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. After untapping from casting Survival of the Fittest the previous turn, you could pass the turn or put a bunch of Vengevines into play. Vengevine seems cool, right? Well there was an even cooler way to win, it involved saying, “Go.” On their end step you could discard some creature you didn’t care about to Survival (I like to call it “Survival away” or “Survival-ing away” a creature) for Phyrexian Devourer, discard Devourer and search for Triskilion, discard Triskilion and search for Necrotic Ooze. Don’t discard Necrotic Ooze! Well, unless you’re holding Reanimate in your hand, then it seems alright. Untap on your turn and cast Necrotic Ooze. Now, using Devourer’s ability with Ooze remove the top card of your deck from the game to add counters to Ooze. You don’t even need to worry about Devourer’s triggered ability, Ooze will not sacrifice himself due to Devourer’s conditional effects. With the counters added to Ooze from Devourer, remove them and deal damage with Triskilion! While this combo doesn’t deal infinite damage, I’ve killed four other players at the table with it on turn four.
The “Paired creature combo” was certainly the right way to go, it’s highly competitive and has tons of variety to choose from in order to win the game. Before we continue to talk about this direction of Kresh, let’s take a look at the list:
Kresh, the Bloodbraided
In order to make the deck faster and able to keep up with some of the better generals, I had to cave-in and add fast Artifact mana such as Sol Ring and Mana Crypt. I tried for a long time not to, but the truth is Commander has changed a lot since I built Kresh. Part of the reasons I didn’t include those cards originally was that back in the early days, everyone ran massive amounts of board wipe spells and your Sol Ring was blown up too often. Often rather than not, you just would’ve preferred a land, but like I said those times are long gone. It’s time to do degenerate things with quick Artifact mana. Along with Sol Ring and Mana Crypt you’ll find some of the best acceleration possible for these colors, Signets, land search, and mana “dorks”. I am only playing spells that advance the deck’s position in the game, which is why I’m actually not playing Deathrite Shaman. I imagined that it would be the best accelerant possible in Kresh, but the problem is even with nine fetch lands in my deck and lands from the opponents, Shaman didn’t consistently add mana. Its other functions are practically useless in this deck, meaning that even Llanowar would’ve deserved the slot more than Deathrite. A few creatures that may seem like they may not be speedy enough for a fast combo deck are Wood Elves and Solemn Simulacrum. These creatures are actually quite crucial, the reason being that they are a mid-way point to something greater. They accelerate the deck to a point that it needs to be while helping the mana curve for Birthing Pod. It’s very important to have creatures to find with Pod for each mana cost that help advance the game state. While the Elf and the Robot aren’t spectacular on their own, they contribute quite a bit.
Creatures that haven’t been discussed yet include: Fauna Shaman, Fierce Empath, Eternal Witness, Squee, Goblin Nabob, Sheoldred, Whispering One, Woodfall Primus, and Terastodon. Fauna Shaman and Fierce Empath both serve a similar role in the fact that they’re targets for Green Sun’s Zenith that find combo pieces. Eternal Witness is a general, “Get me back something good” card. Then we’re at Squee, Goblin Nabob, another carry-over from ATS. With Survival and Fauna Shaman in the deck Squee is a card advantage system, what saddens me about Squee is that it’s the last hold over from the Survival legal days of Legacy. Last week I cut Anger from the deck, I know, it makes me upset too. The fact of the matter is that this deck doesn’t need its creatures having haste. Lastly, there are the Natural Order targets mainly Terastodon. This guy is just a house, before adding the Zealous Conscripts infinite damage win, I used to destroy everyone’s lands repeatedly with “Nasty-Terasty” and Kiki-Jiki. While not a combo piece, it’s important to have some cards that answer problematic situations.
Hull Breach, Ancient Grudge, Chaos Warp, Beast Within, Putrefy, Maelstrom Pulse, and Pernicious Deed are the other cards that also handle awkward board states. I narrowed down all of the removal Kresh, the Bloodbraided once ran, down into this. I believe these spells are versatile, cost efficient, and have the best effect for Kresh. I decided to keep one board sweep in the form of Pernicious Deed after cutting Damnation, it seemed like having a singleton reset button wouldn’t hurt. The goal is to be proactive, not reactive, but sometimes things do need to be destroyed.
Speaking of things being destroyed, sometimes we need to bring them back. Reanimate spells! Reanimate, Animate Dead, Victimize, and Dread Return. Like I mentioned above, for a long time I played Profane Command for its ability to bring something back from the dead. These cards all have a more friendly mana cost and effectively do the same job. Although, sometimes the reanimated target can’t kill a creature! Victimize actually has a double function, I originally was looking for cards that sacrificed a creature for Murderous Redcap and Pattern of Rebirth when I found this Urza’s Saga spell. What I find really cool is that it can return both creatures of a combo, either Zealous Conscripts and Kiki Jiki, Mirror Breaker (Zealous untaps Jiki in order to win) or Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and Triskilion. Returning both creatures of a combo is incredibly useful with Survival of the Fittest or Fauna Shaman, even if they’re both killed.
In order to stay consistent while finding combo pieces the deck needed some draw spells. Mainly: Sensei’s Diving Top, Faithless Looting, Sylvan Library, Phyrexian Arena, Greater Good, Harmonize, and Momentous Fall.
I was having a conversation with Bret Weed, another Syracuse Commander enthusiast when he mentioned how underwhelming Sensei’s Diving Top is in this format. At first I was shocked, I had never considered cutting the card before, I mean, after all… It’s Sensei’s Diving Top! I weighed what Bret had said, but then I considered something else. I probably could’ve cut Top before Kresh became a combo deck, now that it’s looking for specific cards, I think it’s better to keep it around. Faithless Looting has been shockingly good, I imagined that it was going to be rather weak on its own without a Triskilion or Devourer in hand. It’s been fantastic at fixing initial opening hands and even better at putting Terastodon in play on turn two! Sylvan Library is another new addition to the deck like Faithless Looting, but I’ve been even more impressed with Library than Looting. Library being able to draw an additional four cards in the first few turns of the game is usually enough to put you ahead enough to reliably combo on turns four through six. Even if you’re not using it for card advantage, the option to fix your draws makes the card worthwhile on its own. Greater Good and Momentous Fall are “Sacrifice Outlets” for Pattern of Rebirth as well as phenomenal cards on their own, multi-functional cards. Not spectacular like a Survival of the Fittest, but good enough.
“Oops! I Win” is what this deck wants to do, in order to make this happen on a consistant basis I need “Tutors and Bombs!” The cards I’ve chosen are as follows: Wordly Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, Demonic Tutor, Diabolic Intent, Survival of the Fittest, Birthing Pod, Defense of the Heart, Pattern of Rebirth, Natural Order, Jarad’s Orders, Primal Command, Tooth and Nail, Green Sun’s Zenith, Chord of Calling, and Genesis Wave. The first four tutors listed often find the “other” piece of the combo, usually the part you don’t have. If you don’t have any combo pieces it’s time to find some sort of “engine”, these engines are Survival of the Fittest, Birthing Pod, Defense of the Heart, and/or Tooth and Nail. Whichever engine you choose is usually based on the game state and how much available mana you have. Defense of the Heart and I go way back, actually back to my first days in Magic when I played Elves for far too long. My elf decks were nothing like the elves of today, I was busy trying to put my two Avatar of Might into play. Defense of the Heart was my go to choice, but at last, we meet again. I couldn’t be more thrilled, it’s a cheaper Tooth and Nail! With Forbidden Orchard added to the deck to activate it, it happens more than you’d think. But not just Forbidden Orchard. Remember the drawbacks on Beast Within and Terastodon? Yeah, they don’t seem like drawbacks anymore! Tooth and Nail is a favorite from the early days of Kresh, like Defense of the Heart, if it resolves you win the game. Plain and Simple, with “Bombs” like these in the deck, they often become valued Tutor targets.
Pattern of Rebirth, Natural Order, Jarad’s Orders, Primal Command , Green Sun’s Zenith, and Chord of Calling like the initial tutors listed often find combo pieces but not all the time. Pattern of Rebirth and Natural Order find an early game Terastodon more often than you’d think. In fact, Natural Order almost always searches for the elephant in the room, since it can’t actually search for combo pieces. Neither can Green Sun’s Zenith for that matter, however, Zenith can inadvertently find them through Fauna Shaman and Fierce Empath. Zenith like in Legacy is sometimes used as an accelerant to find Dryad Arbor too! Jarad’s Orders almost always put Phyrexian Devourer to the graveyard, unless you’re holding a reanimate spell, and finds a variety of different things. My favorite thing to do is put Devourer in the graveyard and search for Necrotic Ooze, because Ooze doesn’t have Devourer’s seven power clause, it’s always a lethal threat when attacking. If it’s going to die, sacrifice it after removing some cards to draw with Greater Good or Momentous Fall!
Lastly, the cards that may be on the chopping block: Garruk Wildspeaker, Phyrexian Arena, Harmonize, Genesis Wave, Primal Command, Dread Return, Woodfall Primus, and Sheoldred, Whispering One. Before I begin, I would like to say these are all great cards. The fact that I’m at the point where these cards are considered the weakest links in the deck shocks me. However, these cards just currently may not be the right fit, I couldn’t find anything better myself. I believe that these cards may be the right tools until something better is printed. The issues I have with these cards are that none of them are particularly effective at accomplishing the goals the deck is trying to achieve. In fact, all of these cards are slow in nature which is one problem I have with them. But they’ll have to do until something better comes along.
If someone has any suggestions, I’m willing to listen, but I’m fairly critical of suggested cards. I hear a lot of people shouting that cards like Vicious Shadows are amazing in Kresh decks.
There it is! My 2013 update to Kresh, the Bloodbraided. I hope you enjoyed it, this deck is enjoyable, fun, and competitive while not being redundant. I strongly believe I found what I was looking for.
Well that’s all for this week, come back again next week! Until then, keep Storming!
Bryant Cook on MTGthesource